When the wet night wind whistles through sea grass or elks bugle beneath ancient moonlit ponderosas, it's similar to hearing only part of a secret. An owl's wings beat just inches overhead in heavy whispering. Deep in the darkened forest, a doe stamps; does she warn a gaunt new born fawn quivering at the edge of a meadow lit by a full moon?
My husband and I are never quite sure that we understand the sights and sounds we chance upon in the dessert of southern Arizona.Surely mystery and darkness dwell together. Yet in the woods and fields, twilight is often a peaceable kingdom -- perhaps because the ensuing nighttime is the time of dreams , of what could be, of what the world was.
Sometimes midnight unleashes a benign madness in which wild animal shyness is lost in the shadows and personalities which unexpectedly glow. We once watched a bear cub comedian as he trailed up a moonlit cliff behind his waddling black mother. Worried, she tried to hurry him along, but he would have none of it. He circled rocks he could easily step over, gazed at stars, at us. Within inches of the top, he slipped and tumbled to the base. Unhurt, he ambled up again, clowning, it seemed, for us. Never really trying, he reached for bushes too far away, slipped backward more than forward, and sat on rocks sure to slide. At the bottom, he dallied by poking at plants, boxing a bush until finally his mother reappeared at the ledge and snarled down at him. That time, he made it easily over the top.
Only in the obscure light between dusk and dawn have we seen deer scattered in open fields of farms, nibbling at shrubs around farmhouses, and drifting near barns. And only at night have we been near a wildcat in its natural habitat. Caught high in the Colorado Rockies by great drifts of snow, we slept out a spring storm in our station wagon. Toward morning, the incredible silence was broken by the crunch of snow and the scraping of claws on the car roof. Yowling , pacing up and down, a wildcat serenaded us without pausing until dawn glittered behind the eastern peaks and we were again engulfed in silence, but with a difference. No longer an icebound wasteland, the earth -- pristine and perfect -- pulsed though not even an echo remained.
It is only before daybreak that conveys of quail gather bravely beneath our mesquites or chortle at us from under the giant saguaro cactus instead of heading for the desert in their usual flurry of fear. We cannot help but think that their quivering topknots and tumbling chicks are fine feathers of hope for us and the whole world -- especially since they gather so near our jealously guarded garden.
As shadows move in different directions, peace often seems to follow and assume many shapes. Even dogs can be affected by the changing light. Last summer after falling asleep under a velvet Navajo sky, I was startled awake by something touching my finhidden sun was a shaggy dog. After laying his head on my hand, he headed for a hogan in the hills to the tune of bells and baaing sheep; and I was no longer a stranger in a strange land.
Finally, across the continent at my father's farm, we have watched the morning mists melt from the hills to reveal sandhill cranes resting on stumps rotting in Hartwell Lake. When the great birds wing -- glorious and white -- it is as if it were in the beginnign when "darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God moved upon the face of the waters."
Was it not twilight when the world began?