Issue: November 2000
In the Dark

I've been told, by alleged friends, that the occasional encounters I've had with insomnia in recent years may simply be a part of growing older. I find this explanation neither comforting nor satisfactory. Indeed, if it is just part of the aging process, I'd like to know where I can file a complaint, because they've got things exactly backwards. At least where I'm concerned. I've always had a real knack for sleeping (some have used the word "genius"), and it seems I should only get better at it as time goes by.

But my purpose here isn't to complain about insomnia, only to tell you how I put it to use the last time it struck. It was 4:22 a.m., and it occurred to me that quite some time ago I had vowed to explore this place in the dark. It also occurred to me that I'd be leaving Reed Creek soon, perhaps as early as this winter, and that I shouldn't let this perfect starry fall night slip through my fingers. So out I went.

Did you know that seagull poop is iridescent? Well, that may not be true in the strictest sense-that is, the stuff doesn't actually give off its own light. But it does reflect starlight remarkably well. So my path was clearly lighted-in a surreal, mildly disorienting way, with a million glowing freckles-as I walked to the end of the dock with a chair and flashlight in hand. But there was little to hold my attention here. And sitting this close to my poor neglected Ink Pot, which had sat idle all summer long, was stirring up some guilt, so I stayed only as long as it took to intellectually exhaust the subject of reflective seagull poop-which was not long at all.

It was also colder than I expected, so I trudged to the landward side of the house and into the big grassy meadow that stretches away to the south, hemmed in by woods to the west and Long Cove to the east. It seems vast and somehow more agricultural in the dark, especially now that it's thinned out, tree-wise-courtesy of Hurricane Floyd. As I circled the meadow, in fact, I visited those former trees, now a massive stack of 20-foot logs at the edge of the woods, and I was flabbergasted to find them blanketed by a thick, viny groundcover. Kudzu, perhaps? I couldn't tell in the dark, even with my flashlight-and I'm not sure I'd know in the daylight. I only know the vine is aggressive, whatever it is; the logs, a literal trailer load, had nearly vanished under the stuff in one growing season. It was a spooky scene, one that pricked the imagination; for a few fleeting Walter Mitty seconds I felt as if I had discovered a derelict logging camp right on my own property.

I also felt cold. But before I could go back inside I had to retrieve the chair I'd left on the dock, which I did. And that's when it occurred to me that I should visit Ink Pot-go aboard and commune with her and apologize for neglecting her. Go below and lie on the V-berth so I could see up through the foredeck hatch to the stars, which I did. And that's when I fell asleep, despite the cold and the bouncing and the slapping waves. And that's when I realized I still had the knack. Some have used the word "genius."