“Look,” whispers Mark, and I join him at the back door, where we peer through the glass at what could be a day care center for deer.
Light is just breaking; four spotted babies are curled up comfortably in the middle of the backyard. One of the mommas conscientiously concentrates on eating every single bud and blossom from my little tea rose while the other snoozes way back under the pine tree.
We think one of the mommas has triplets, and that the other, smaller, doe is a first-time mom. Three of the fawns are curious, exploratory, nudging; the other is shy and skittery.
We think the shy one is the first-time mom’s baby.
I wonder if the triplet mom is also the momma to the little doe, and so the grandmomma to the shy fawn.
As we watch, three of the babies raise their heads, stretching their long necks, looking around. The fourth sleeps on.
Mark opens the door slowly and steps quietly out onto the stoop. He gently wiggles his cell phone out of the pocket of his shorts, and he lifts it to take a picture.
The biggest fawn jumps to its feet. Mark raises the phone and snaps.
The baby fixes him with a look and, sure that it has Mark’s attention, deliberately stomps its right front foot.
“Look at THAT,” Mark says softly. He stares back at the baby; he stomps HIS right front foot.
The baby leaps, shocked, and sends some sort of signal. Two more fawns jump up to join it, and they drill their gazes into Mark. And the rose-eating momma, message received, ambles over to join the little ones.
They face Mark down while the smallest one sleeps on.
Mark, once again, stomps his right front leg.
Momma and the big fawn stomp right back, and they peer at him intently.
I can almost see conversation bubbles over their heads.
“What is YOUR deal?” they are asking. “This is not your time, human. This hour—when the sun awakens and the darkness broadens into gray, then into dawn, is still part of the Night Domain. This is OUR yard until the Hour of the People begins.
“Wait your turn, Buddy. And leave us alone.”
Mark puts away his cell phone and gets his car keys, and he backs out of the carport, heading to the gym. I gently close the door behind him and go into the dining room. I pull my morning pages notebook from the cabinet and find my seven-year pen. I’ll write my pages first, then walk.
For a while I was walking during the transitional hour, thinking, “I’ll get my walk done first thing! It’ll be cool and pleasant, and I can sit over my morning pages when I come home.”
So my walks and Mark’s gym forays aligned; when I came back, I’d start the coffee and join him at the patio table. I’d date the page and begin to write, but, inevitably, I’d put down the pen in favor of conversation.
My pages weren’t getting written when I walked in the transition time.
And things happened then that reminded me that that hour—that gray and glistening time—does not belong entirely to people. During that hour, the world slides slowly, and sometimes reluctantly, away from the Night Domain.
It IS cooler at 6:00 a.m. on hot summer mornings—so cool, sometimes, that shreds of fog cling. The air feels good, but I found I needed to step it up, to walk briskly, to stay warm enough then.
And I had to watch where I was walking. As the curtain pulls back and day emerges, there are denizens just retreating.
One morning, I rounded the corner and there, mid-street, stood a one-antlered buck. He loomed tall out of the morning fog; he owned the road, and he was not inclined to share.
I stopped and gazed at his asymmetrical head. Why only one antler? I wondered.
He stared at me, unamused.
It was a long looking moment, and I, of course, faltered first.
No reason I can’t walk the other way ‘round the block, I reasoned, and I reversed course and turned away.
When I had gone about twenty yards, I looked back. He was still there, the one-antlered buck, owning his corner and his misty hour of morn.
It may have been that morning that I became aware that a robin seemed to be following me. I was on the straightaway and several yards ahead of me, a robin stood his ground in the sidewalk. Maybe he had seen the deer best me and thought he’d do the same. He stood, unflinching, mid-sidewalk, head cocked, one round black eye meeting mine.
I walked closer and he stayed still.
Come on, I thought. I am not giving up the sidewalk to a little bird. Move, buddy. MOVE.
I was less than six feet from the valiant little creature when he threw in the towel. He fluttered into a nearby tree, and he hid in the leafy branches, and, honest to gawd, he YELLED at me.
I walked on, fast—not scared, mind you, just setting a brisk pace in the morning cool.
And every 600 feet or so, I’d look up, and there would be a robin on a branch ahead, eying me. Same size, same attitude, same posture: one ebony eye-bead fixed on my face.
Are you FOLLOWING me? I demanded, and then I looked around, quick, hoping no other morning walkers were near enough to hear me interrogating a bird.
The bird just held its gaze.
And six hundred feet later, there he was again.
Maybe he was sending progress signals to his paisans. She’s just about to turn on to Yale, he might be telepathing.
And the one-antlered deer would shrug and say, Let her come.
One early-early I interrupted two small raccoons deep in conversation in the alley. I swear the closer one held up his hand to halt the other’s narrative; he swiveled his head and stared at me as I walked past.
It is quiet, quiet, in the transition hour. What do little raccoons discuss then?
That day, they froze and watched me out of sight, and, until I reached and turned the corner, awareness prickled down my back.
Another early-early,—and I am not making this up—a man was walking a passel of tiny jumping dogs. There were eight little yippers, at least, each on its own leash. They moved as a body, the yippers bouncing. They looked like a strange great spider.
The man himself looked like the Christopher Lloyd character in Back to the Future—a shiny pate, a shock of silvery hair, a face that was lined and on the gaunt side. His belly, though—that protruded, and it was more noticeable because he was sporting a long, belted, leopard-skin robe. His skinny white legs ended in red crocs.
Clearly he wasn’t used to encountering other humans at that hour. The tiny dogs bounced and barked and leashes tangled, and the man muttered, eying me and trying to get his herd to edge away.
The little dogs ignored him.
Finally, he yelled, “BATHTUB!”
The tumult stopped and the dogs organized themselves, and the man gave me a look—that look, the same ones the animals gave us: What are YOU doing HERE NOW???? And the whole entourage turned and made their regal way up a narrow side street.
I watched a while and I itched to take a picture, because I wanted to be sure I had seen this.
But I thought picture-taking was rude, and a part of me thought that maybe the encounter was a function of the transition hour, a shape-shifting kind of trick, and the man was really going to morph back into a spider with a leopard-print body, and the dogs into tiny aphids attending him.
And then I shook my head and stepped up my pace. It can get fanciful, walking in the transition time.
One day, in my early-early walking week, I turned the corner to head home, and came upon a thick-furred black and white cat that crouched, motionless and ready, on the sidewalk. It flicked its eyes, and a whole venomous message came sniggling right at me.
Go AWAY, the message said.
Don’t you dare interrupt this, the message said.
I stopped and turned and I saw, frozen in the alley that leads to the back of my house, a rabbit, stiff with fright, huge eyes rolling wildly.
The cat stared at the rabbit, and I stared at the cat.
Run AWAY, bunny! I said, but the rabbit was paralyzed. The cat all but hissed at me.
I thought of the deer. I stomped my right foot.
I clapped my hands.
And the bunny leapt; it bounded off, finally released from that awful feline hypnosis.
The cat was disgusted. It gave me a pursed-face, meaningful look—again with the message: What are YOU doing here? This is not your time!
With great and august dignity it rose, floofed its plumy tail at me and ambled, not one to hurry, away.
That was the morning I decided I had had enough of walking in the hour before the Night Domain receded. I brewed my coffee and sat with Mark on the patio, and then the day got underway.
That night, I mentioned that I was going to reverse the order—do the pages first, then walk.
It’ll just work better, I explained. The day rolls much more smoothly when I get those morning pages written.
Uh huh, said Mark. I get you. Makes sense to me, he said.
And so that’s what I’ve been doing. Writing those morning pages—well, it’s like sweeping cobwebs from the bony chambers of my mind. It’s best to do them first thing.
And if my human presence no longer intrudes on transition time, if I wait for the Hour of the People to pop my earbuds in and do my walking,—well, of course, that’s simply incidental.
And there’s nothing wrong, after all,—nothing one could say, “Fraidy-pants!!” about—with walking AFTER the Night Domain recedes.