Wednesday, September 24, 2008
Sometimes I wake in the middle of the night — likely a lingering sleep pattern from when my children were babies — and I just lie there, listening to the city night slowly roll over into morning. We live in a quiet neighborhood, fortunate that our Nokomis bungalow does not lie under a flight path. On the first open-window nights in spring, I’m aware of the low hum of traffic on the crosstown, the faint whine of airplanes taking off. But by midsummer, the crickets’ cheerful all-night chorus drowns out these machine-made sounds. And for a time after the last bus has rumbled down 54th Street, I could almost be in some quiet rural enclave — just the crickets and me.
A car passes now and then. Our neighbor opens the door to let her dog answer his nocturnal calling. A friendly muppet of a standard poodle, he’s usually very quiet, but sometimes something excites him and his exuberant barking pierces the night. A rabbit?, I wonder. A prowling cat? A racoon? The door opens, a muffled voice hisses, “Bogie! Get in here!”
I know dawn is approaching by the rustling of my window shades — the air has begun to move. Then the first bird announces itself. In the spring and early summer, this is usually the distinctive whistle of a cardinal, but by September they have run out of things to say. Soon a cacophony of bird song begins a crescendo; I pick out a robin, a finch, a chickadee.
The birds are interrupted more and more frequently by car doors opening and closing, engines starting, as the earliest workers are whisked away to useful industry. Then the familiar rumble of the bus tells me the day has begun in earnest.
Bogie makes another foray out into his yard, and now my dog is tap dancing outside the bedroom door, impatient to do the same.
The day brings its own set of sounds, both human and animal. When I walk the dog I am constantly stopping to peer up into the branches of a tree because I hear the soft tapping of a downy woodpecker, the nasal nih-nih of a nuthatch. I hear the scuffle of sneakered feet; a jogger passes, her ears plugged into an I-Pod. The cicadas are boisterously warmed up by afternoon.
Soon it will be too cold to leave the windows open anymore, but so also will the cold silence the insects and subdue the birds. The pleasures of listening to the city at night will diminish, so I won’t mind shutting the window. And, really, I should get some sleep.
I wrote this essay for my quarterly magazine, MOQ -- Minneapolis Observer Quarterly. If you'd like to know more about MOQ, such as what else is in the current issue and how to obtain a copy or maybe even subscribe, please go here.