The moonlight pours through the skylight, banishing any thoughts of sleep. Slipping on my shoes and tucking my nightshirt into my pants, I go out into the night, walking down the steps and into the drive. It is a night as still as nights get. Shadows are motionless. Ragged pools of moonlight lie on the drive like white-grey patches of old snow.
The unpaved road is a white river, flowing in a broad, curving swath. I turn into my neighbor’s drive. Here the pools of light remind me of those that Jimmy Durante always exited into at the end of his shows, saying cryptically, “Good night Mrs. Calabash, wherever you are.” Here they seem like pools leading into the past, as we know the past: scattered patches of illumination separated by long dark stretches of oblivion. It is a black-and-white movie I walk through, and almost a silent one, for there is no wind. A few cricket songs thread themselves through the leafy darkness; the traffic sounds are intermittent, distant, muffled.
I seem to have caught the year on one of its cusps. In the moonlight the vegetation is still summer lush, with no hint of decay. Nothing is falling, or has fallen. Though I am wearing a jacket and the night is October crisp and clear, the impression is that of a tropical forest, rising tier upon tier, in the utter stillness of its own density.
My feet find the soft curving path as it bends down to the road. Though the visible signs of the path are few, even in the bright moonlight, I walk with the confidence and inner serenity of a deep sense of belonging, of familiarity, of rooted connections made here over time. I have grown like a plant here, slowly, but intricately, into this silver – washed landscape. I walk with the authority of an inhabitant, knowing that nothing untoward can really befall me, for I am at home.
Earlier in the evening my wife asked me, “Would you trade everything you’ve attained here for everything you haven’t?” It’s a hard question, made harder by the realization that we seldom recognize or appreciate all that we have attained, or the cost of trying to attain more.
At one point I pass the dark form of a beech tree, its pattern of little, black, football-shaped leaves shading the path. The leaves overlap like fish scales in the searchlight of the moon, restoring some faint green to the world. When I blow on them, the condensed vapors of my breath rise and are pierced with shafts of moonlight.
On the road again, I walk down to the site of a small clearing where I first watched and listened to woodcocks courting and singing in the moonlight – oh, how many years ago! The field and the woodcocks are long gone, replaced by a screen of young, crooked black locusts that look like palm trees in the exotic light of the moon.
I walk back along the white river of the road to the cottonwood grove across the road from my house. Here, in this light, they seem like ghost trees: slim, silver arms arching up into a fretwork of branches and shriveled, crinkled black leaves against the stars. I try to slip by my neighbor’s dog, but he senses my presence and begins to bark, shattering the silence of the night. And so, to let my neighbors sleep, I turn into our drive and walk up the steps into the house, where life is lived, then and now.