3:30 am. Groggy but wide awake. Lurching or drifting out of sleep into the hard-edged silence of the dying hour.
Maybe you are an Iyengar vegan, maybe you have the unicorn job we that provides lots of money, no stress, and minimal hours so leisure and friends are ascendant in your life. Maybe you’re the guy who can pass out slouched in a chair in the middle of a cafeteria. Don’t worry, you’ll get there. The yawning grasp of 4am waits for each of us.
Maybe you had a few drinks and your body has turned it all into sugar. Maybe it was something you ate, something someone said to you at dinner, something inspirational that you’re too tired to work on. It doesn’t matter. Your’e awake. In a way you never are at 6.30 or 7 or 9 or whenever you normally swim up out of Morpheus’ kingdoms.
There are things we try. Watching TV. Pressing your eyes shut. Putting your hands over your head and trying to push yourself down into the sparking dark. If you’ve really arrived, none of that is going to work. And the whole time, you know it won’t. But like a 7-year-old trying to avoid the doctor, we try to will the universe to change anyway.
The dog is always ready. Sometimes, if I turn over too vigorously, I hear the chang-chang-chang of his chain as he leaps to his feet from a sound sleep and begins panting. Overheating in the cold dead of night, at least we have that in common. I strap on boots, slide on a kilt, shirt, jacket, scarf. The boots are a deference to winter, although I pretend it’s only because of my hurt foot and not the cold. I have the legend of Viking heritage to hold up.
There’s a scrunch-schluck as I make my way across the gravel of the swamp burm. Recent rain has turned the mounded swamp mud into a soft sludge that resists the suns attempts to resolidy.
Mist is the closest thing to nothing I know of. Air, I suppose, is closer, but having the virtue of being invisible (outside of Los Angeles), it slots too neatly into one of the ‘nothing’ categories to count. There seem to be three different kinds of nothing – i mean mist – by the bay this morning. To my left, by the mountains, there’s a kind of semi-solid shroud in the air. Its edges are impossible to see. I can see it because of the way I cannot see the mountains. They are lit, but indistinct. Hiding in plain sight like a privacy haze from a science fiction movie. Out on the marsh in front of me, and out across the bay is medium nothing. Regular mist: it fills the air, it’s vaguely white, it has edges barely visible, it glows in the starlight. To my right as I round the first corner is the least nothing mist: tule fog. It is like a white carpet woven of ultra light fiber optic threads. There are dark shapes underneath it, but they have been sacrificed to its intensity.
It happens best if you have short hair. Or thinning hair. Walking under a branch in the dewy early morning, one fat drop has been collecting itself for hours, adding molecule by molecule to the fattening dance of rounded water. Your specific gravity, the electrical charge of your skin, the magnetic pull of your heart, the soft vibration of your footfalls, something pulls it down at that exact moment, and a wakeup call in the form of a round, wet, cold *splat* on the warm flesh stretched over your skull. The full moon is like that. It comes out from behind a mounded cumulonimbus. Splat, it hits me, the bay, the mountains, the salt marsh. Light seems to trickle down everything, seems to stand on its own in the air.
I realize that in the least nothing of the tule fog, I’m seeing a moonbow, and a full one at that. Almost a complete circle, arising from and ending in the near mud and reeds. It’s so bright, I can’t help but try to blink something out of my eyes. I want to turn off the moon. I want the quieter adornment of my swamp back. I wonder if the raccoons out there, tiny lords of the swamp night, feel the same.
The greater nothings of the sea mist and the mountain mist have become lambent sheens, like candlelight on an irish woman’s cheek on a winter night.
The dog is there because I have stopped, or because he so rarely sees me stare at something so intently, or because he is cold or wants company. It doesn’t matter. He is there. I am here, in my life. For a few moments, I’ve stopped trying to escape. The air on my red cheeks and my exposed legs are enough. And the mist of my breath, which is a blending of what seems to be nothings: heat, water, cold, the shallows between living and the world.
When 3am comes for you, rejoice. Take your creaking self into the world. THere is so much nothing that has been prepared for you, that otherwise, you may miss.