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.
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.