The Mighty Viking

Conquering those things we must, one story at a time

Posts Tagged ‘night’

The Path to the Back Gate


An icy pathway leads away from the single lightbulb outside the garage door.

It isn’t a pathway you can see, exactly. Nothing marks it’s physical boundaries. As a guide it can’t lead anyone. Its landmarks stand only in the memory of its nightly travelers, two dogs and a man.

It isn’t meant for anyone else.

Its memory is spread across the gravel driveway, on through a hundred feet of stacks of logs, and past the cross-stacked structure that form a base for small mill, someday. The burn barrel lies beyond just a few more steps into the dark, still warm to the touch from today’s work. Around it is the one notable feature: bare ground where the heat from the burning debris inside has melted the snow and ice.

The ground has frozen for the winter.

Most winters this means snow will sit a couple feet deep until first spring thaw, but this year so far, it is unusually warm. snow melts to ice, sinks a little and forms around the needles, and sand. At night it re-freezes, and then becomes a lake bed of hard ice, impervious to later thaws, so that in daytime the more recent, melted water simply pools on its surface instead of draining away through the soil.

This is what I walk upon, except here beside the burn barrel. And so the pathway ends here, it is my only marker, glowing in a ghostly bluish hue by moonlight.

This end of the path, though, is not the end of our walk. I step beyond it into no path at all.

And here, unmarked and unnoticed by anyone else, is a temple.

The back archway stands bathed in a celestial light, the near full moon beaming from her southern path. The clear space in the air above is ringed with Pines. My imagination imbues the glowing arch with an ephemeral magic. I step into this holy place, rest my arms on the top rail, and attend to the Sacred.

The moon’s brilliance gives the cloudless sky a pure, bluish black depth not often experienced. The dogs around me step to my side, sit, and take their posts unbidden by me. They feel it too, and assume the role given to them.

There is no sound of wind. I can see the glint of tiny crystallized snow sparkles beyond the fence in the undisturbed, reflection glittering from the slight movement of breathing. Over there, through the trees and across the river, the coyotes begin to work, and I can track their bearing from their exuberance. A neighbor a quarter mile away yells at her dogs for barking back, and then slams a door.

In the flood of returning silence, I see a shape floating across the moon.

Just a small cloud, shaped like a bird on the wing, gliding effortlessly with the drafts above. But then there was another. And then, it was a whole flock, all shaped like birds but moving nothing but the backdrop of stars and moon. They foretold change. Their warning hushed down through the Pines directly at me.

And then, they were gone. The outriders had delivered their prophecy, and disappeared in that blink between moments where you can never quite say which one it was, as if they’d never been.

The coyotes started a hymn, and my two dogs took up the chorus like drunken fans who still think they know the school fight song. I didn’t know the right words, so I sang “oh, shut up!”. Second verse, “hush now, dangit, don’t you howl”.

And we all listened, while the coyotes took up an offering somewhere up the knoll to the south. Their silent distraction with their prey invoked our meditation back to the purity of this night.

A Wind bestirred itself, just on the edge of hearing. It was swooping down over the Buttes some miles away, calling upon us to return from our spiritual melancholy, and I became aware of huge billows of cloud above, swarming in from the south and west, scudding through the sky like battleships. I had been too enraptured to see them until now.

They swarmed around the moon, none of them are deep enough to block her light out entirely. But each threw itself as best it could in the air current, the moonlight creating a rainbow halo in each cloud as it passed.

Gradually the clouds thickened, and tightened. And the night darkened and chilled. The light changed. The mood fidgeted with anticipation. The audience felt something about to happen.

Magically, snowflakes came out of the darkness, kissing me delicately with the shy sleepiness of a child in bed when their daddy comes home late.

And like a king riding a chariot of snow, a palpable silence enveloped this temple. Audience had been granted and set. I stood in the presence of the High One.

How long I stood here in Its Midst covered in the silent snow I could not tell you. The Holy stands outside of time, and that is where I must meet Him.

It was its depth that stilled my heart. This Stillness looked inward into an infinity that my energy could not disturb. All the worries, the thoughts, the anxious pouring over thoughts of the past, it was all there. But there was no echo. There was no return. The raving sense that my disquiet might explode and hurt someone near lost a place to stand, caromed harmlessly off into this implacable peace. It was the depth of this peace that defined the firmness of this weld between my God and I. I have plenty of time to stand in this Holy Place.

I just follow the path, and wait.

I have plenty of time for this.

Dog’s Watch

Living Room, late on a Sunday evening.

Charlie gurgles a low growl, and gets up from his spot beside me to pace uneasily.  His direction is vague, he’s not sure what troubles him.  But if something in the night troubles him, it troubles me.

I open the door to let him out, and realize the neighbor dogs a quarter mile away are barking their fool heads off.  I douse the lights, and we slide out the front doorway sideways.  I take up a stand to the side of the door on the porch while Charlie tests the air, and we listen to the progression of barking.  When I lean against one of the posts to acclimate my sight and senses to the dark night, he instinctively drops into a defensive position lying in front of me, facing out.  Somewhere in his DNA, despite his daytime habits, he is a guard dog at heart.  He remains mostly silent, watching, listening, communicating with me occasionally with low, intimate growls.

I listen to the earnestness of the individual voices, and imagine the size, and shape, and personality of each of the distant dogs.  I wonder at what sort of disturbance would make them persist – usually the local fauna passing through gives them a chance to exercise a bit, but tonight, after 10 minutes, with different dogs chiming in and dropping off, whatever lurks seems to be real enough to them to warrant honest attention.  

One of the dogs has been a constant while others come and go – and he has a strong voice.  I figure him to be perhaps a Pit Bull or something similar, a bold beast.  Another has a quicker, higher voice like a herding dog – Border Collie perhaps.  The third I peg to be a mutt among mutts, I can’t really define him any other way.

We watch together, Charlie and I.  I think while I listen, and begin to acclimate to the night, of the stories from the books I read in childhood, of hunters and their dogs charging headlong into the night chasing coons, and bears, and sometimes men.   Men following the dogs’ voices with lantern held aloft against the pitch black of the forest.  I know I”m not going to see through this murky night, despite the stars visible through the canopy above.  I turn to my other senses and feel across the expanse to the fence, onto the gravel road beyond that passes our property, straining for any indication of the nature of the Hunted.  

In the midst of this watch-stander’s reverie, a hound from the next house further away bursts out.  Even the other dogs stop for a moment – they had been merely barking, but this – the solid full-throated bell of this baritone hound – it is a thing of beauty on this crisp night, a beautiful symphony of intent that fills the night air.  

Indeed, it changes the night air.  

Charlie lifts his head.  Yes, he feels it too, the urge to carom through the woods towards danger, the age-old instinct between a man and a dog, and quarry.  

The other voices fade.  The hound’s bugle call eventually falls silent.  Charlie and I patrol the fence line – partly to make sure our place is secure, and partly to wade deeper into this night’s Mystery, to test our mettle against its dark sorcery.

Until no other sound but the whisper of wind through the Pines remains, until Charlie’s growls subside, until our slow, silent steps unconsciously circle back to the porch, we remain a part of this night, vibrant in its intimate awareness.  The intruder has passed beyond threat, our work is done, and the sharp wooden echo of the porch’s planks beneath my feet ripples the still pool of sound around us.  The soft whoosh of the door’s weatherstrip whooshes across the slate floor inside, the insulated buzz of the indoors envelopes us again.  

Our watch is over. It’s rack time.