I sit outdoors on my porch steps late at night and let my dog have her last run in our front yard. A dog must do a lot of sniffing before sleeping for the night. Mollie roots along the bed of ivy and holds her nose aloft for a whiff of something that seems to please her deeply. I am in no rush. The autumn air is cool, but I have brought an old quilt with me, tucked around my shoulders like a shawl. I am settled in and cozy.
Across the street, my neighbor's small gray cat positions herself between the window and the blinds. She sits like an ornament on that window sill, surveying her view of the world. It is oddly comforting to me that she is there every night.
Though it is late, a few windows still shine in the darkness. Across the street, a lamp glows from a window on the second floor. A young couple live there with their toddler son and newborn daughter. That house once belonged to a tiny old lady who wore a red wool coat every day, summer and winter, on her afternoon walk around the block. She is gone now, but I remember the inside of her house. The light that shines upstairs must come from the baby's window as her parents tuck her into bed.
At the house on the corner, a lamp beams brightly behind red draperies. The warm glow reminds me of hot coals in a campfire. The older couple who live there have traveled to Japan and have shared origami with our family. Our neighborhood is often graced with the presence of Japanese visitors who stay at that house.
The wind stirs up dry leaves and scurries them across the sidewalk. Half a block away, two people laugh as they cross the street. Mollie lifts her head from the ground, rumbles a low growl, then decides all is well. She moves on with her sniffing. Cars come and go along the side streets, but their sounds are fleeting, no more to me than the rustle of the wind. My elderly neighbor to the west has turned up his radio, and though his windows are securely fastened for winter, I can hear strains of music seeping through the seals.
Mollie joins me on the stoop at last, ready to turn in. I stand with my quilt huddled around me and step closer to the yard where my view through the maple trees is unobstructed. The stars, so faint in our summer city light, now shine brightly from the black autumn sky. They are farther away than I can imagine. But in this quiet night I feel connected to their peaceful presence and to all the sleepy neighbors on my street.
I could linger outdoors a long while, watching, listening, and even sniffing, for my nose is pointed to the stars. My nose, unlike my dog's, cannot catch all the scents of autumn, but something out here tonight pleases me deeply, too.
(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society