WHEN some small sound awakes me at night and I shuffle sleepy-eyed into the living room, I wonder if the TV and the blender, the books and the cassette tapes, have just moments before dashed to their respective places, looking innocent and uninvolved. If so, they and their games are clever enough to elude detection by this slow individual. So, when I find myself talking to my stove almost as I would a friend, I may be forgiven. ``Come on,'' I might say, ``you can light better than that,'' or ``How would you like a little more air in there?'' when I open the bottom vents. I might say, ``My, don't you look smart,'' after giving it a fresh coat of blacking, and finally, ``Have a good time this summer - see you in the fall!'' when I clean it for the last time in the spring. There is no reply. That is already known by me and the stove, so why waste words?
After summer, when the air turns crisp and the bright summer foliage changes hues like some out-of-tune television set, I start to talk to my stove again - ignored since spring.
So it's not surprising that one mid-February night last year the stove and I had, for want of a better word, a rapport that fills me with wonder and warmth to this day. I awoke in the middle of the night for no special reason. It may have been the moon shining full on my face through the undrawn curtains that awoke me, or perhaps it was the sudden silence that follows after a barking dog discovers only its own shadows are prowling around. Perhaps a snapping twig in the forest, unheard asleep, but recalled later on waking, like a dream.
OUTSIDE, at 4 a.m., it was 5 degrees. I left my warm bed and went into the living room and gazed out the window. ``Hello, stove,'' I said. I was aware of the bright glow from the stove. Beyond that, I didn't know what to say. I turned and stared out into the night - remembering that the local weatherman had forecast that the snow would cease ``in the early hours.'' It had. The nightscape glowed faintly in the full moon, quite resplendent in its gown of silver and lace. It was an eerie sight, like one you'd find after landing on an alien world. I had seen these woods in all their seasons, yet found I was constantly and increasingly surprised by the different guises that, with nature's help, they offered.
Outside, the woods were charcoal and silhouette, contour and outline, quite unrecognizable from the woods of the day. There was a completely round and full moon, more light than form. A quiet brightness covered everything, giving the impression of a half-developed photograph in which the colors had not quite set. I had the strong impression that I was privy to a very special screening of the night, an intruder in a private showing, so to speak, of a rare and beautiful picture.
``This,'' I remarked to the stove, ``is absolutely incredible.'' The stove merely glowed.
Then came an amazing sound. At first, I could not place it. Then I recognized it - the broken honks of an arrowhead of geese targeting their way across the moon. I thought I should be remembering some painting that I had seen; some artist who had captured this before me. But it was useless. It suddenly occurred to me that this was quite original, as yet unpainted, and unseen until this moment.
With dawn hours away, the long-necked creatures seemed able to maintain that incredible schematic as though it were noon, instead of 4 a.m.
The whole picture was quite lovely. The silver and gray, although lacking in color, seemed to provide a base tint for the imagination. The combination of shadow and substance was not always distinguishable and created a Tolkien nightscape that was quite breathtaking. And then those geese went over. ... and they were gone and silence returned.
I looked at the stove and it was as radiant as ever. Somehow I felt that it had somehow been in collusion with this cold night. A new perspective was born, and an appreciation of a season that has been mainly relegated to the ski slopes and post-Christmas sales.
I had seen it out there in the woods - and felt it when those geese flew over. For a moment of night, we have a glimpse of ourselves and of our world islanded in a stream of stars. It is a minute peek at something that we didn't produce on a machine, something not store-bought, something we have not been educated into - a million shapes and patterns to be pleasingly latticed and laced and interfused. One is so tempted to want such things as everyday events that one regrets their rarity. But perhaps their uniqueness is in the singularity of the event. That we are there at that time is enough. And the stove? It beamed.
There would be an extra helping of coal tomorrow.