A few weekends ago I visited some friends who live way out in the country in the Sierra. They’ve got a beautiful place that’s fully off the grid, and far from any highway.
After an evening of music (Richard plays the flute, Lynn plays the banjo) we dragged a big foam pad onto the lawn and Lynn and I slept out under the sky.
At first I was sure I wouldn’t sleep. It was too thrilling. I could feel the earth living under me, and all around me. The moon was whitely bright (I had to cover my eyes with the quilt), and down the valley two owls hooted at each other. Tree frogs sang. They startled me. I’ve lived in Sili Valley too long and forgotten what tree frogs sound like.
At dawn the sound of a bee buzzing in my ear woke me. She was scarcely 6 inches from my head, clambering over the blossom of a plantain. From ground level I looked across the lawn and saw hundreds of bees—honey, bumble, and black—all working like little flying field hands. Waking on the lawn was easy and natural.
It was hard to come back to Bay Area, where the only creatures I hear at night are police sirens and the neighbor blowing his nose (and sometimes snoring in big honking grunts). I can’t sleep outside in the city; the neighbors would be able to watch me (that’s creepy), and the rats in the backyard might chew on my nose. And sometimes scary people frequent our neighborhood.
But many nights as I wrestle with wakefulness I wish fervently that I could sleep outside. Ah, I think, if I could just take a blanket out under the apple trees and stretch out on one of the lawn chairs. If I could feel the connection to the earth that comes from being outside and in the night time, then perhaps I could sleep. And if I didn’t, would it matter?
I don’t have a sleeping porch or an isolated birch tree to sleep under, so I have to make do with sleeping next to the window and feeling the air as it tumbles into the room. If the neighbors turn out their lights (which shine in my window), I can open the blinds and watch the tops of the trees in the back yard. That will often help me sleep.
But in the morning, instead of bees buzzing gently next to me, I waken to NPR blaring on the radio. The news is the only thing that will launch me—still half sleeping, but ranting and fuming—from bed. While I eat breakfast, I hear crows hollering back and forth and squirrels thudding across the roof. In spring, occasionally a mocking bird will sing. But it’s not enough to cross the divide of modern life and put me at peace.
How do you live in an land of concrete and apartments and still keep in touch with the earth?