Early fall midnight at ten thousand feet, and a lot is happening. The stars are out. Their glimmers make me sit up and put my glasses on, then stand and look into the night at the half-circle of changing aspen. An owl is also wide awake and who-who-who’ing. I’ve never seen this owl, but my mind’s eye tracks her season after season. I lie down again and listen hard. After all, it’s not as if I can really expect to really sleep, anyway.
A few who-who’s later, I drift off, then wake to a soft mammalian whistle. What animal is making this snurfling sound. Elk? An elusive bobcat? Ah, just the husband’s breath, sighing him in and out of a dream. My favorite animal, this man who, like me, will one day take a last breath, and maybe in this very cabin. A wakeful thought, that.
And a part-time job, this sleeping, and not sleeping.
I move to the couch at 4 and stargaze, waking to the whoosh of moving water. I think, rain, rain, rain! and am dunked in gratitude. Alas, only the coffee maker gurgling, telling me it is 5:30, officially morning. I close my eyes again.
Then. Three women doing dishes in semi-darkness. I pick up a big ceramic bowl and see a hefty toad there—lumpy, wide-eyed, and miraculously ugly. I lift the bowl and walk to the door. I want to set him free, but his container is empty. I understand the toad will be back. All I need to do is keep his water fresh. Later, this writing dream has me christen a fresh black notebook Toad. My pen drops blue ink on page after page. I remember, and deeply, the stillness and clarity of the silent creature and the harmony of the night-time women. Doesn’t a dream sometimes cross over into a prayer?
A month later, flakes fall fast in the city, where I write under a down comforter, struggling to stay awake after a solid night’s sleep. This old house is full. I can almost hear my young people all breathing the hush of their own dreams. All the beautiful ins and outs, all of the dreaming that will go on after me.