Ann Woodlief

II.Night Musings

Nights, from sunrise through sunset, are the magic hours on the marsh, the time when all my senses become most alive.

Our first venture from Richmond into the Middle Peninsula came one August night when the shooting star showers from the Perseides were at their predicted peak. Before, we had traveled to a dark mountain valley in Bath County to watch this show, which has lately and obligingly provided a natural firework celebration for my birthday. But this year the peak came on Wednesday, and skies were cloudy over Richmond.

As soon as my husband came home from work, we drove east, looking for significant breaks in the clouds, take new directions on the map as we retreated from the city glare in the skies. Within an hour or so we found ourselves on the bank of the Piankatank River, according to our map.

The skies were dark, lit only by uncountable stars, and the moon would rise later. By 10 pm we had witnessed at least ten spectacular arcs of light shooting, sometimes almost from one horizon to another.

Around us and across the river were cottages, and we could see the blue lights of television screens. No one else seemed to realize that the best show--for months or even years-was right outside their doors.

We were amazed to realize we were relatively close to Richmond, yet it seemed as if we had stepped into another world where time stood still and comets shattered.

Within weeks I had located the land we would buy on the marsh. The sky was not quite as dark there, not with the lights of the West Point paper mill less than ten miles away. But the stars were still brighter and far more plentiful than in the city.

At first we thought that a screened gazebo beside the marsh would satisfy our desire for a quiet and relatively wild retreat. On Sundays I soaked in the sounds of birds and the wind, inhaling the aroma of honeysuckle, leaving reluctantly before sunset.

The prospect of a moon eclipse in November changed that schedule. Watching it from my hammock in the gazebo, listening to the night sounds, walking the land in the moonlight, and watching the sun rise through the mists of the marsh convinced me-we had to build a house and live on the marsh, at least part time.

It has been over ten years, and the magic of the night has not diminished. The house was carefully sited so most windows face east to the marsh, and I rarely fail to celebrate the risings of the sun and moon.

Tonight it is the warm scent of lilacs and the sweet pungency of death turning into the green life of the marsh grass.

Sitting on the pier in the middle of the marsh, I hear the watery movements of small fish flashing and the muskrats swimming in the creek. There are faint mammalian sounds I can't identify on the creek shore, and something moving in the trees. As the full orange moon rises, the mockingbird launches into his son. So far, there's no hum of insects in the freshening breeze. And the stars shine almost as clearly as they did ten years ago, though the light from the direction of Williamsburg has definitely increased.

Sound travels far in the stillness and I hear one car coming down our dirt road for several miles. A dog barks, perhaps a mile away. When I close my eyes and listen hard, there are many soft sounds, most I can only guess at. The soft breeze is more comforting than chilly.

It is still hard to leave the marsh, especially between sunset and sunrise, for each night is different and special if I am paying full attention. Granted, I sometimes am either too preoccupied or lazy, though I rarely miss the sunrise, even if it means no more than lifting one eyelid to check the mirror which reflects the eastern view.

In my head I hear Thoreau's words, celebrating the morning with its renewal and reinvigoration, and awaking to the dawn. He called the morning "a standing advertisement, till forbidden, of the everlasting vigor and fertility of the world," and of himself as well. Thank goodness the dawn is not forbidden, at least not here.

These words remind me of how little true awakening there is in any of our lives, and how easy it is to miss the glories right outside our doors. The least I can do is to witness and listen, to celebrate the risings of sun and moon which can mirror and even initiate the rising of my own spirit in this moment and this place.

Pleasant Living Magazine, September/October 2006