Night Thoughts

On most nights, I have a period of wakefulness, where my mind becomes anxious about what has been and what will be. I usually try to shut that down by retreating to my fantasy world, trying to solve the problems in the storyline, or by trying to move it along at one stage or another.

Tonight, my thoughts were about the garden. It’s about 26 years old now, older than my daughter, and it’s getting decrepit. This year, the pond developed a leak and sits mostly empty. The featured white birch that stands beside it is dying. The fences are leaning. More distracting work to be done and all a testament to my short-sightedness as a landscape gardener, I thought, as I stared at the ceiling…

Anselm Kiefer, The Renowned Orders of the Night (Die berühmten Orden der Nacht), 1997
Acrylic and emulsion on canvas. Guggenheim Bilbao Museoa

I wished the ceiling gone, so I could stare up at the stars. Pointless points of light, but magnificent when understood in the fullness of their existence.

Somehow that turned my mind to a day in Autumn, a few years ago, when I was kayaking alone on a quiet lake in Elk Island National Park. The trees were bare; the birds were few, but it felt good to be there, paddling in the sun as the landscape around descended into winter.

Astotin Lake, Elk Island National Park, Alberta. 2016.

Then, along the shore of a small island, I came across a fellow traveler. A large diving beetle, stroking along with its oars just under the surface of the water, heading away from the land.

It seemed to row with purpose. What was driving it so intently? Had it already mated, or was it in search of a partner? Was it fleeing me as I lurched along in the kayak? If so, why didn’t it dive out of sight? Was it too buoyant, had it somehow captured too much air under the wing cases so that it could not dive deeper? Or was it just hungry, looking for a richer feeding ground? Nearing winter, it may have been in the last days of life, but it strove onward.

I felt a closeness with that beetle, and although I didn’t understand it, I understood.

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