SKIING AT MIDNIGHT
The full moon rains down its quiet light like water, pooling shadows in the gullies and bathing hilltops in an off-white cream. My back yard collects much of the creamy
light, it would seem, and once each month in winter the shed casts a sharp, dark image of itself across the snow at midnight. And in the milky light, the snowy, bare hills of
the golf course in view of my bedroom window sheen like the round of a pregnant woman's belly, and I want to go there.
To go there at midnight, that is, under the moonlight. I'm a winter-time golfer, I guess, avoiding these hills in summer. I ski all over them during the whiter side of the year, but always, until now, in daylight.
In daylight, cross-country skiing is a study in black and white--black tree limbs staked against a white field, the black water of a clear, cold trout stream slicing through its snowy creek bed. But at midnight when I clamp my boots down into the bindings and haul myself out toward the edgewood, all is indigo and smoky grey.
A dozen dark houses line the first quarter-mile of ski trail that traces the edge of the golf course, and I wonder whether anyone hears my rhythmic schussing. Will anyone sit up startled in bed, puzzled at the alien noise? Have I intruded? Am I disrupting? But the trail curves inward, out of earshot of the sleepy homes. Alone at last, I ski with abandon and delight, my senses prowling the rounded hills. The night is crisp at my cheekbones, but warm against my beard. A hazy and broken circle of reflected moonlight accompanies me, whisking along the track, flake by flake. The sound of the night is pure: one sound, one sound, the sound of skis upon the slightest edge of ice. No other sound.
The night may be silent, but my mind is full of conversations, brief recordings that echo and then fade. A chat from work yesterday. What I need to tell Bill tomorrow.
A child's voice. A snippet from the past, something spoken with my mom, now deceased, who bought me these skis. It's hard to hear the quiet over all the noise.
At the lip of the steepest hill of the course, where the earth shaves off a hundred feet or so, I hesitate, but not for safety's sake. It doesn't occur to me ask what I'm
doing out here, even though if I break a leg on this hill, it'll be sunup before Dianne finds me missing. Instead, I've paused for less practical matters. I've fixated on the oak tree's shadow that has snaked across the trail and leaked into the ski ruts, a shadow that looks less fluid and alive in daylight. Seeing it cast by moonlight, I feel as if I've stumbled onto something private, a sight not given over easily to trespassers. If I listen, it will tell me something, or so I suppose. I listen out into the night.
* * *
For several years now some perverse organist inside my left ear has permanently jammed the keys and left me with a continuous cacophonous ringing music. I've tried without much success to figure out what notes I hear, but it's more like someone who's fallen asleep with his arm slung across an octave of keys, and he never wakes up. It's a nuisance, nothing more. It even has its perks, if I think about it. I can sleep with my good ear to the pillow and never hear the kids wake up in the night, which is handy, although not popular with my wife. I can literally turn a deaf ear on conversations not worth hearing--and I have.
I rarely really "hear" the subtle ringing anymore, although it never goes away. I don't hear it when I'm busy at work or playing with my kids. I don't hear it when I'm reading a good book.
But I do hear it now at midnight, on the lip of a hundred-foot hill where I am poised on my skis, watching an oak tree shadow snaked out against the grey snow.
* * *
I don't have miles to go before I sleep--I wasn't that ambitious in the first place. But it does occur to me that it's cold and that Dianne may begin to worry if she hasn't already fallen asleep. Since the hundred-foot hill is on the far corner of the golf course, I take one last drink of the tree shadow, haul my skis around in a 180-degree penguin-footed sweep of a turn, and kick and pole to rev up a new stride toward home.
And suddenly I'm swimming in moonlight and shadows and ears that sing. The night is alive and full! My own shadow skis before me, a perverse little organist singing off-key and looking over his shoulder, saying, "Hurry, now! The moon'll get you!"
There he goes before me!
I am utterly alone on this golf course. It's past midnight now, and the long shadows will begin to stretch and thin till dawn when they'll dissolve. But I wonder how it is that anyone is ever truly alone on this whirling planet, for my head is full of sound and thoughts and conversations with people asleep in their various houses, and with those whose sleep is longer, fuller, and the stuff of shadows.