Lean Back

Daylight Savings began a good while ago now – as if you could ever save such a thing as daylight, or delay for even a second the spilling bright silk of it. We change the clocks  because we can’t change time. We borrow light from day’s end to paste onto its beginning. The days grow short and shorter still. Rename their hours, run them backwards, stand them on their heads if you like, there’s no changing that fact.

It used to frighten me as a child, coming home in the late afternoon, kicking through the shin-high leaves so much like my breakfast cereal, the dry ones like drifts of cornflakes, the wet ones milk-soaked. A tipped-over metal trash would rock in the thin cold wind by the curb. Old-style street lamps would set cones of light down on sidewalks, making the gathering darkness all the darker. I would turn the corner, footsteps quickening – until I saw the light from our kitchen: my own kitchen, and my grownups moving about inside it.

Having once joined them, I was all right again, with my homework open on the kitchen table, and the water for tea drumming softly against the kettle’s base. Once the daylight was truly gone, I was fine. Watching it go was what hurt.

I sat once in a woodside church, the whole back wall of which was fashioned from glass. As I listened to the voice from the pulpit, I looked out at a stand of trees that together wove a bright pumpkin-colored tapestry dotted with wines and mauves. I glanced out at the golden light; glanced back; then saw it begin to flicker eerily as birds, blackbirds by the look of them, began arcing through the trees: swooping and diving and multiplying until dozens became hundreds, swirling past.

The eye wants to catch on such flights bird by bird; instinctively, it goes for the particular. But in all the motion, eye muscles fail. Focus fails. But if we look past the fleeting particular to the general tapestry the effect is immediate: we feel that we ourselves are spinning. We feel twirled again as we were twirled in childhood by parents’ hands or playground swings. Then, we spun until the world spun too; if we were frightened at first, we soon learned to lean back and watched it go.

The same night of that flock sighting, I arrived in full darkness in my driveway and sat in the car, somehow reluctant to go inside. For minutes on end, I sat. Then suddenly a black shadow crossed a silvery wedge of grass: my cat. I opened the car door. She hopped in, quick as thought; stood on the dashboard looking out; moved to the back window; leapt lightly to the headrest, all the while swiveling the twin satellite dishes of those fine triangular ears. She settled at last on the passenger seat beside me and together we looked out: Heard the deep bassooning of wind in the pines; watched a branch sway; saw mousy movement in the grass. We sat there for 20 minutes that passed like two. I believe that moment taught me darkness and I am not afraid of it now.

Meanwhile, the days grow shorter still. The world is spinning us down into winter. ‘Let go,’ you might tell yourself now. ‘Lean back and let it spin.’ You are a child once more, and the strong hands that hold you are Nature’s.

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