Monday, October 31, 2011

A Sense of Place

For the past three years, if I were to wake up in darkness, I had to rouse myself by five in the morning. Even then, gleams of a paler shade of black shone at the edge of my eastern view and then lavish streaks of gold and pink--and then the sun, already in full blaze by six. If I slept much past eight, I awoke in a little pool of sweat.

Where I live now, the dark sky doesn't brighten until after seven, turns an opalescent grey and then a bright eggshell with a barely visible, tentative back-layer of faded pale blue. The spruce trees that edge the freeway are black cut-outs beyond the squares of dark brick and the headlights that never stop moving. Slowly the seagulls move in to see what the garbage trucks might have dropped the night before.

Even though daylight savings means that dawn and twilight will both come an hour earlier in a few days, this ridiculous manipulation of time matters very little in the Northwest. Soon we'll all get up in darkness and face nightfall before five in the afternoon and then after Christmas watch our daylight increase by a few minutes every day. Until that light begins to count, happy hour is a city-wide ritual in Seattle.

For people who live in one geographic area all of their lives, the end of the day holds no sense of wonder. In Bangkok, nighttime is when the air cools, the food carts hit the streets, meals take on a leisurely pace at the end of a workday; every sunset begins a new little festival. In Alaska, being out at night for much of the year could well mean death; home was an essential retreat where heat and light were weapons against what lay in wait outside. In Seattle, the difference between the gloom of day and night is often miniscule; winter is flatline time when heavy drinkers perfect their skills and the rest of the city stays home. For each of these parts of the world, this is the way it's always been; this is the way to live.

In Bangkok, I sometimes wish for a storm to sweep in and turn the air into the fresh crispness of an autumn apple. In Seattle, I want the night sky torn into rapid flashes of light, dancing like snakes and x-ray beams and blankets of fire. In Alaska, the darkness sends me as quickly as possible to the nearest airport.

Eight am in Seattle and the light is ashen; on the other side of the planet, Bangkok at ten pm is still eating. My day begins at a time when only three months ago it was winding down. Schizoid with the weird gift of having lived in more than one place, I yearn for both, now, for the ability to toggle between one and the other like windows on a computer screen.

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