Sleeping Outside

sleeping bag funWhen my big sister Nan and I were simple kids living in a house thick with ancient relatives, we yearned for that rare occasion when we got to sleep outside.

We never did that in our own yard, so small it could hardly fit its in-ground garbage can and its creaky old clothesline. But oh when we went to visit our cousins in West Roxbury!

There were no trolley cars screeching past the end of their street. There were no alleys between brick buildings like the one we had with its revolving store of interesting things, bits of brightly colored glass, a discarded lady’s scarf, and once, for a thrilling six-week period, the remains of a small dead animal, flat as an envelope.

Their neighborhood felt like the neighborhood we saw on Leave it to Beaver. Their mom wore an actual apron. They had a real screened-in porch, and we could roller skate as much as we liked along smooth sidewalks.

And best of all I would get to “camp out.” Nan would do other, older things with the other, older cousins but I was always matched with cousin Mary Lou, who was closest to me in age, and boy did Mary Lou know how to have fun. For our big campouts she would fashion a little tent for us, expertly pounding its pegs into the grass. She would produce real sleeping bags, the old-fashioned kind, made of cotton and lined with plaid flannel.

There, as evening gathered in, we would feast gloriously on Franco American spaghetti heated up over small cans of Sterno and lie back in that soft grass, telling ghost stories and waiting for the stars

It was heaven. And I believe I remember it today because last week I came upon a passage I had copied out just 20 years ago from T.H. White’s wonderful bThe Once and Future King. 

The passage goes like this:

The boy slept well in a woodland nest when he laid himself down, in that kind of thin but refreshing sleep, which people have when they begin to lie out-of-doors.

At first he only dipped below the surface of sleep and skimmed along like a salmon in shallow water so close to the surface that he fancied himself in air. He saw himself awake when he was already asleep.

He saw the stars above his face, whirling on their silent and sleepless axis and the leaves of the trees rustling against them, and he heard small changes in the grass. These little noises the footsteps and soft-fringed wing beats and stealthy bellies drawn over the grass blades or rattling against the bracken at first frightened but interested him so that he no longer cared to see what they were but trusted them to be themselves, and finally left them all together as he swam down deeper and deeper, nuzzling into the scented turf, into the unending waters under the earth.

Perhaps it was the part about trust that moved me to copy this out in the summer of ’96. Anyway, it’s the part that moves me now. And tonight when the darkness gathers, I want to look up at the still-swollen moon and those steady stars and remember to trust more; to trust, as Lincoln said in his farewell to the people in Springfield, that all may yet be well.    

sleeping in the woods (1)


Shut My Mouth

I’ve been trying all day to think  how people work their way back toward cheeriness when they’ve got the blues. Some drink I suppose, some gamble, some collect dolls – there’s a serious chunk of the population addicted to doll-collecting not sure you knew that – and some just lie flat down and spend hours staring at whatever’s in front of them.

I tried that last night in front of “Parenthood,” the NBC show with the lovably flawed Craig T. Nelson character and the star-crossed Lauren Graham character  getting kissed by the wrong guy all the time. (She’s pretty adorable herself; who wouldn’t want to kiss her? Except her kids, the short seething girl with too much eye makeup and the mute yet sensitive boy.)  But even this sprightly show could not  restore my joy. I was just lower than the underbelly of a snake. I lacked the energy to even click it off –  had to ask David to do it for me.  “You can’ pick up the remote now? ” he said, momentarily  distracted from his own addiction to the Stieg Larsson novels.

“I know! Put me out of my misery!”  I mewed and so he clicked it off and I turned on to my tummy and went to sleep. (And yes I know you’re not supposed to have TV in your bedroom. I know I just wrote all that about how even an alarm clock is too bright to be around when you’re even thinking about sleep. I will  only say that the day we went ahead and got one anyway  WAS ONE OF THE HAPPIEST DAYS OF MY LIFE, OK?)

And then I went to the Post Office and got this letter written by someone in response to what might have  struck her as an exceedingly optimistic column of mine. It is just so sad; it makes me feel like the proverbial man who cried because he had no shoes until he met a man who had no feet.

How to respond to a letter like this?  The poor soul just ends it here, without even a  signature. What can I possibly say to her?