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Taking in the Dark–and good people with lights

I’ve been taking early morning walks around the block in our subdivision. Around 4:00 a.m., just out of bed, I pull on whatever clothes I took off the night before, slip into a pair of flipflops, unlock the back door and step outside. I want to be out in the summer night. When I was a kid, I spent a lot of time outside at night. The thrill of the dark, the shadows and deep mysterious skies, the surprise of movement on the ground and in the trees–you’d be alert to your surroundings in a way you were not during the day. What was that? The night had edge.

On these walks, to make myself visible, should I need to be, I bring along a small flashlight, instead of wearing the funky iridescent yellow vest hanging in the closet. I bring ID, my phone and glasses, feeling ridiculous but thinking: If a cop drives down this road, which is unlikely, I will be a suspicious character. I’ll need to prove I’m no threat. Also, I could step off the side of the road and fall, I could be hit by a car, I could be attacked by a coyote or a startled skunk. Always, at night, a low vibe of potential harm, of fear. 

In the town where I grew up, kids talked about deer man. Not a deer man, not the deer man, just deer man. He was a fixture, like town hall, and required no article, a night creature that lurked in the dark beyond the city limits. Jerry Cody said he saw deer man out there. He leaped across Thomas Road. Jerry: “He walked on his hind legs.” Carl Mathie said he saw deer man on Vasold Road. Carl: “He had red eyes, big teeth.” I was a town kid. Deer man didn’t come to town. But might he?

Where I walk, every house along Wagon Wheel Drive is lit–a porch light, a yard light, some have multiple lights. One house has eight floodlights, two on the garage, two on the front porch, more across the front of the house. These lights are about safety, about community. Good people with lights, like good guys with guns, looking after each other. 

On warmer nights I’ll hear the whir of AC units. Nights this week, cooler, are all silence. The houses I walk past are dark inside, except one, which has a second story window lit. I look, but not long. Private space feels more private at night. During the day I might look. At night I don’t. 

Years ago, when my wife and I lived in the city, summer nights we slept with the windows open. Some warm nights, in our second story bedroom, lying in bed in the dark we heard voices below, people walking by the house on the sidewalk. I’d feel a shiver of excitement, our spaces, private and public, so close. 

In another week there will be a super moon. Some bright days my wife takes a beach chair to the driveway and sits in the sun. Early in the morning of the super moon, after my walk I’ll take a chair and sit in the moon, taking in the dark, its danger, its hidden joy.

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