Monday, May 01, 2006

The Night Watch

The cat is in the window, gazing into the darkness, with its sounds and smells. It’s pretty mysterious out there, what with the denizens of the night making their rounds and taking cover in the darkness.

We had our dark places back home, too; spots where the shadows and sounds and smells became magical.

One of them was our backyard. We could sit on the terrace and listen to the night birds, the bats, whatever was running loose in the woody area down near the back fence and the occasional sound of a neighbor’s bug zapper. We had enough trees to make the sky view partially obscured, but always changing in the wind.

Another was the beach. No trees there, no bushes and not much nightlife. But many offshore blinking aids to navigation and onshore sweeping lighthouses, along with a few steady ship and tugboat running lights. This was, perhaps, less mysterious for those of us who lived on the water and knew what each light meant, but it was still magical and the waves’ invisible roar during a late-night storm brought up visions of galleons braving Cape Horn or the Cape of Good Hope in the always-rough latitudes called the Roaring Forties.

I spent many a night on the top open deck of a cruise ship in Alaska. It was pretty dark there, with just enough light so you could see --or thought you could see-- things on a nearby shore. A lone cabin light in the middle of nowhere off in the distance, perhaps a bush plane way off in the air, some formless shape of a mountain. We turned, from south to west, from Gastineau Strait into Icy Strait, so slowly that it seemed as if we were standing still and the hard to distinguish background was moving from right to left. It's somethng best seen in the dark of night.

Right now, the sun is shining and things are quiet. In twelve hours, the night creatures will roam again and the cat will monitor their goings-on.


Blogger Cold Josh Vail said...

On darkness. Reminds me of my time in the Navy when I was serving aboard destroyers and my favorite time on watch was when I had the 4:00AM - 8:00AM in the after steering room. This does not mean that the ship had two steering wheels ( just had to use that one), but the after steering was used in emergencies, like loss of power in hurricanes or maybe a 747 flying into the wheelhouse. Anyway I would climb up on the fantail through the scuttle and watch the stars and night shies fade into the rays of the coming sunrise.

The mid-watch or graveyard watch was eery sometimes. On the helm ( nautical term for the abovementioned steering wheel)I could see only the compass light. It was four hours of steering and relieving the other helmsman and staring into dark. Moonless nights on a smooth sea are black. A ship's masthead light some ten miles away would seem so close, and even friendly on occasions. It meant that we were not alone. Was it a tanker from some middle East port? Mebbe a freighter out of Libya or even a bauxite carrier from Venezuela with a crew from Trinidad. Darkness and freedom of thoughts let our minds wander and sometimes...sometimes I could see the light from the lighthouse where I was raised even though the ship was hundreds if not thousands of miles distant.

May 02, 2006 5:27 PM  

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