I spend a lot of long nights alone here, when Peter works second shift. They are especially long now, as he leaves at three and the sun goes down about twenty minutes later. I love our cabin, now that it has turned into a home with its perpetual sink full of dishes, scatter of boots at the door, stacks of junk mail and half-filled shopping lists and little whorls of kibble that have escaped the dog bowl and been batted across the floor by the kitten. The ice that forms on the inside of the windows and sneaks in under the door and around the hinges actually makes me feel cozier. It can’t get to where I am snuggled with my furnace dog and warm motor-purr kitten on the couch or up in the much warmer loft.
But sometimes those endless cozy nights take a turn. Nouwen wrote eloquently about the dark side of solitude in The Way Of the Heart, and I think am finally begining to understand where he wrote from. The quiet and dark and lack of human companionship drive my mind to places than I’d normally choose not to go. I get caught up in the little internal cycles of mental destruction that I’m still working up the strength and discipline to break out of on my own.
Last night was one of those nights. I had satisfied myself with leftovers (jerk veggie amalgam over rice with atomic yogurt tahini, I *love* being a vegetarian,) I had written e-mails, done some work … and managed to squeeze in several hours worth of procrastination bouncing around on the internet. This is usually where things tip downwards. My mind drains of autonomous thought, my body hunches into itself and my back begins a growing ache of protest. The glow of well-being from an earlier mini-yoga practice with Peter before he left for work had long since been worn away by flickering screen and hunched shoulders. I finally tried to force myself to write, hoping that would break the deepening spiral, but found I couldn’t even manage a sentence. I felt like that horrid little deadline icon that keeps popping up on writers’ blogs and turns my stomach even though I can never turn away from its bloody destruction.
It was almost midnight. I took a deep breath. In a moment of awareness, I heard the sled-dogs down the road begin to howl. There was a timbre to it that was unfamiliar and in a way more primal than their usual dinner-time clamor. I experienced a rare intuitive click, understanding suddenly that they were howling at the Aurora. I stumbled downstairs and into several more layers, zipping fleeces, wrapping scarves, adding hoods to hats, cramming already cold feet into wet snow boots. I walked out to the road, and looked back towards the cabin. There, right above the ridge of our roof was a stray shimmer of bright green, folding down towards the trees and up again, slowly fading back into the sky and revealing the explosion of stars behind.
The rest of the band was on the northern horizon. It was green, but more of a glow than a dance, no sharp edges, no shimers. After the overhead band faded out I watched this bubble of light. It looked a bit like the glow that cities put off from a distance in the night, albeit much greener. I thought about what lay under that vast pulsing blanket of light. North of us there are only scattered cabins, mostly just running up the south faceing side of the next hill. Past that, a few homesteads. The end of the pavement. A handful of tiny roadless native villages scattered over thousands of square miles of snow and ice covered wilderness. Follow Polaris for five hundred crow miles, and there is the ice ocean of the Arctic, smashed up against the shore and stretching on into the infinity of north.
I was suddenly aware of where we are. It was a moment of presence that I badly needed, with everything that has been fighting for space in my head. We sleep north of the northernmost city on earth, in a forest of spruce and birch on a bed of ground that has been frozen for hundreds of thousands of years. We live and breathe in a log cabin covered in snow, whose lights warm the windows through the lengthening nights towards solstice, where a kitten is watching me through the glass, where my sleeping hound chases ghosts of deer through her dreamworld. We live in a place where cloudless nights are filled with an unfathomable vision of stars.
I shivered on the road, watching the dome of light fade into a thin river of streaming green inches above the trees. I heard the phone ring, Peter on his way home. I forget sometimes, too often in fact, how long these things were hoped for, and how little faith I had that they would ever come into my life.
I have a lot to be thankful for.