Night Vision


Gerry here, writing this in the wee hours. Nothing unusual for me as I’m a bit of an insomniac and when I wake up in the middle of the night the first thing I get is an idea. And then another one. And then I have two choices: I can get up and try to capture thoughts before they flee, or I can lie there and pretend to sleep with my mind whirling.

So usually I get up, which was the case a few nights ago. I was scrawling something at the kitchen  a little after 3 a.m.,  when I heard a noise. A thump. From the direction of the study, above the kitchen at the end of the ell of our old house.

I looked around. Counted cats. One, two, three. So it wasn’t one of the usual suspects.

And then another thump. A rattle. A rap on a window.

I pushed open the door at the rear of the kitchen, headed slowly up the back stairs. At the top of the stairs is the study, a loft, really. I looked right, over the bookcase. Listened.

Nobody. Nothing.

I looked left.

And he looked back at me through the window pane, dark eyes staring me in the face.

He was outside the second-story window, had jumped onto the roof and worked his way down. I’d never seen a flying squirrel up so close.

There is a big suet feeder outside the study window, the kind that looks like a cylindrical metal cage. Rocky (I’ve proclaimed him male for the sake of the narration) was small enough to squeeze through the gap in the mesh and get to the suet, inside a metal grate at the center of the contraption. It was like a flying squirrel diner. Table for one.

I’d seen flying squirrels before but only glimpses of live ones. Our cats caught and killed a whole family a few years ago and I froze them so I could bring them to my son’s nursery school for show and tell. It was a huge hit (only in Maine).

This was better, up close and personal—and alive. Rocky munched, his big eyes bulging as he watched me. His fur was pale gray, almost white. His paws were small and delicate with long claws. His tail was furred by not puffy, like a gray squirrel’s. When he reached up for another helping, I could see the flaps of skin that connected his front and hind legs. We watched each other for 20 minutes or so and then Rocky asked for the check. Well, actually he just squeezed his way out of the feeder, glanced back at me once, and sailed for the woods.

Until next time.

I stood there and waited for him to return but no such luck. So I smiled to myself, and made my way back to the kitchen. This being 3 a.m., as I stood there I began to have more ideas. One, it’s fun living in Maine in the country. Two, most of us know very little about what goes on at night in the woods—or any other place, for that matter.

There’s a time of night that is consigned to the denizens who roam then, let’s say from 2 to 4 a.m. In the woods, it’s nocturnal prowlers and predators. On the streets, it’s the same, but the two-legged variety.

It may just be that it’s dark for so long this time of year, but I find myself thinking that we’ve given over too much of the night to whomever or whatever is out there. In front of the television, the computer screen, even the book, we turn inward. And then we turn in. And it’s then that the creatures of the night are free to roam and skulk and prowl and patrol— while we sleep, unconscious and unaware of who and what is out there in the dark.

For most of our lives in this sleepy Maine village, we never locked a door. Not the doors to the house. Not the doors to the shed. Not the many doors to the barn.

Now I lock them all up tight.

It isn’t because I write novels filled with nasty characters. Or because there’s crime even in these here parts. There always has been, and I spent many years writing about it for the newspaper.

No, it’s the kind of crime that’s changed, I think. I pick up the paper in the morning and most days there’s yet another armed robbery by someone desperately craving Oxycontin (somebody knocked off the credit union in my small town not long ago and made their getaway on a bicycle). Or there’s another report of someone berserk on Bath Salts, that chemical concoction that gets you high just before your heart explodes. What part of this is fun?

So how did I get here from Rocky the Flying Squirrel? (Hey, give me a break. It’s the middle of the night). Well, I guess this is just a very roundabout way of saying that yes, the woods are still dark and deep. And all of this is fodder (I may let Rocky glide into one of my books one day) for the books that we write, the stories we invent, the stuff that you (if you read this blog) like to read.

There was good reason that people in darker times invented all sorts of creatures in the blackness along the forest path. The dark is an unknown. And we fill that black void with the stuff of our imaginations. But not enough, not any more.

I’ll retire now, pledging to get out more at this witching hour. Do more of my own nighttime prowling (I’m up anyway). Take back the night and serve some of it back to you on the printed page.












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11 Responses to Night Vision

  1. Sarah Graves says:

    Another member of the 3AM club checking in. There should be a secret handshake! And Rocky is now the mascot (w/ Bullwinkle the prez of the Maine chapter…?)

  2. MCWriTers says:

    I, too, am a member of the 3:00 a.m. club. I used to often be up and at my keyboard, or lying in bed telling over the dialogue for the next day, so clear and so vivid, and hoping that it would stay until morning. I also wake up dreaming of story, and then, coffee in hand, stagger to the keyboard in my nightgown to get it down before the words are lost.

    Of course, you do know that frozen squirrels figure large in the tales that people tell. I’ve heard a couple of those crazy reporters from the Miami Herald tell frozen squirrel stories and other stories of violent squirrel death at mystery cons. Perhaps you have, too. And for your readers who can’t get enough of the subject, I offer the following link:


  3. Paul Doiron says:

    Lest someone try to make the connection between insomnia and crime writing, I should confess that I am a sound sleeper. Sorry.

  4. Barbara Ross says:

    I am often up at 3:00 am as well, usually because I haven’t fallen asleep yet, not because I wake up then. My mind is whirling and I can either get up and write it down (which will wake me fully) or try to power through to sleep.

    Anyway, great story, well told, Gerry. My heart was pounding as you climbed to the top of the stairs.

  5. Great story indeed. I always regret it when I don’t get up to write down those middle-of-the-night ideas. They always disappear by sunrise and I just know they were the most brilliant inspirations I’ve ever had . . . if only I could remember what they were!

  6. Carole Price says:

    Gerry, I absolutely loved Night Vision. Found its reference on DorothyL.

  7. Sarah Graves says:

    I think it was John Gregory Dunne who said that note cards are what make novel-writing possible?

    The horrid thing is that I really have gotten up and written those middle of the night ideas on something or other, sometimes even a note card, and they have often turned out to be very useful to me the next day. Wish I could say they’re useless and there’s no real reason to get up. Sigh. Too often I just roll over, muttering, ‘I beseech you to remember…’

  8. Brenda says:

    Glad your intruder was such a cute one! I’ve never seen a living one — only the dead one my grandmother of all people apparently stuffed. (Never did ask her where she got that particular talent.)

  9. lil Gluckstern says:

    Wonderful story for this dweller of the suburbs. I was raised six stories up; courage with intruders is not necessarily my strength.

  10. Vicki Doudera says:

    Gerry, your comments about current small-town crimes rings true here in Camden as well. Our Rite-Aid pharmacy has had several robberies, and the little local hospital was the scene of a crazed rampage by a bath-salts user. Scary stuff. I’ll take a hungry squirrel any day.

    Loved your photo of the little guy!

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