Rebecca Jan Lane - How Many Nights

 

How Many Nights.....

 How many nights
have I lain in terror,
O Creator Spirit, maker of night and day,

only to walk out 
the next morning over the frozen world,
hearing under the creaking snow 
faint, peaceful breaths...
snake,
bear, earthworm, ant...

and above me 
a wild crow crying 'yaw, yaw, yaw'
from a branch nothing cried from ever in my life.
("How Many Nights - Galway Kinnell)

It is the wind that wakes me.  Howling gale force it roars across the pastures, like a great mouth open and jagged.  I lie awake listening and wondering, imagining the damage to come to the silent branches that shake and tremble.  It is beyond a nervous twitch the branches, they have now gone to fully fledged convulsions in the wind before they snap in its icy breath, too heavy from its kisses, shattered by its attentions.  
The snow rises and spins like dervishes in passion, a thousand diamonds shining in the moonlight.  The snow can keep up with the wind as its suitor.  The snow swoops,  and skids across the shifting snow drifts.  One step ahead, teasing the wind to chase it into the woods.  It is many, the snow, so it divides the wind's attention, its kisses, coy like women in the full bloom of youth, self, and presence.  
Our eldest daughter has crept across  the hall way and burrowed into the covers between us.  Her restlessness is another product of the storm's presence.  She grips my hand while she sleeps, aware of any move I make. She murmurs in her sleep, "Momma, Momma."  Her hand squeezes mine tighter, and I squeeze back. " I am here, Baby."  I am to keep the bogeyman away.  Such is her faith and trust in me, in her parents who she has found a place between, and pushed her own den of blankets around before she fell asleep.   Perhaps she heard the coyotes calling tonight from their snow caves, tucked beneath frozen leaves and branches.  If some are lucky, they will sleep piled on top or beside each other, haphazardly.  Their combined  heat, breathing  the same air, will  melt the ice and snow.  There is safety in families, in packs, in numbers.   We know this in our very cells.  
  The baby, on the other hand, sleeps undisturbed by the storm.  If she is aware of the storm, she doesn't show it.  She doesn't flinch when the howling gales go by.  Nor does she move at all when the far off sound of thunder ricochets between the mountains.  Thunder snow is of no interest to her.  Rather at six months old, she laughs in her sleep.  She laughs at the storm outside, laughs that anyone could be so frightened of just the wind.  That's all it is really.  Just wind.  
How many storms have we weathered, the ones we remember and the ones we don't?  between the  gales outside, to the dark nights of our souls, until the stars shine again, and give us respite?  Do we laugh at the storms? Remembering what they are, that they will eventually pass?  Perhaps we are huddled in our safe places, holding on tight to someone's hand, counting each second until it passes.  Or maybe we just wait, like the black bears that hole up in the deep caves, protected where nothing can reach them, listening for the wind to change.  Or for us to change the wind.  to hear the song in the shrieks, and to learn the tune so we can eventually take our chances and dance with the wind. 

  Eventually, we all sleep.   The howls of the wind quiet, or I become used to them, needing them perhaps, and I sleep to their shouts.  When the night ends, and the sun rises again, I open my eyes, not sure if the storms were dreams, or real, and I wait in the darkness of our room.  I listen to the breathing of my own small pack.  My husband, our daughters, the dog.  There is no snow here to melt with our breath and dreams, but it is still, thick with our sleeps.  our eldest daughter is no longer holding my hand.  The boogeyman is vanquished for another night.    They all sleep.

 Sliding on my muck boots, I head outdoors to assess the damage.  Something must have broken off.  A tree must have splintered, branches fallen.  shrugging on my work coat, I open the door.

And it hits me.  The smells, the sounds, the feel of it all.  The ice of the past few months is gone. It smells of green, of growing things.  Of new life and warmth.  The temperature is going  up.  I need my coat, but not as much as I had expected.  And the sounds.  My goodness the sounds.  Where for months, we haven't heard a bird sing, a crow caw, where it was silent in the vacuum of snow, I am overwhelmed with sounds.  Flocks of starlings, commonly thought to be nuisance birds, perch in the still naekd butternut trees, like a giant family reunion.  The branches sag under their weight. There must be fifty or sixty of them together -and they sing.  I don't know if it's really singing per se.  It's not like robins, or bluebirds who have specific songs and calls.  Instead starlings sound like a crowd of people all talking at once.  Again, like a family reunion where everyone is excited to see each other. They talk over each other.  They interrupt.  There is some yelling across the tree, but only in the best of feelings, like someone in the middle of a conversation who suddenly sees someone they know, and must shout out to them while talking to the first.  It's loud.  It's chaotic.  They make no apologies for who they are.  There is no mimicking other birds, or trying to behave.  They are unapologetically starlings, exactly as intended.  They are not always liked by the humans here, but the birds sound happy.  

It is new.  It is all new.  From the starlings in the trees, to the chickens who have ventured far from the coop for the first forage in weeks.  They hope for scraps, or the still early bugs.  A worm must be a delicacy to them now.  

 The snow has melted leaving huge puddles shaped like extended ovals.  Our eldest will be thrilled to have her swimming pools back.  She will like there, or splash until she is soaked, change her clothes, and rush out again with new puddles to discover.  
   
I hear the screen door slam, and see the rest of my family come out, blinking into the sunshine.   The eldest has her puddle boots on, and shorts, and a winter coat.  My husband carries the baby who is wrapped in a blanket.  Except she fights it, until the blanket shielding her from the sunlight and cold is pushed down.  We stand there, for a moment, taking in the change of seasons that happened over night.  Then the baby laughs again.