Tuesday, October 31, 2006

A city at night

I have always felt that you can get to know a place best at night. Everywhere I have gone, it's the nights that stay with me, especially cold nights in the fall. Life seems crisper then. Sounds carry farther and there are fewer of them; lights cast a pattern of shadow that illuminates the things we value; and the cold in the air brings a sense of solitude. You know where you are on a cold night in the fall.

There are some nights that stand out. There was one at home in North Carolina, singing "Silent Night" as snow fell under a full moon. There were countless others there too, nights which were truly silent under the midnight stars. There was one in Durham, walking along the quads of Duke's East Campus under the soft lamps that line the sidewalks. There were many in Annandale, ducking through the alley on the way to the grocery store, blinking in the fluorescent glare as cars rolled past the distant neon; I knew that town well. There were several in Fort Worth, the bright lights of downtown shining as a beacon down the winding road along the Trinity while the breezes drifted in off the prairie, the concrete streets hummed gently, and the trains called in the distance. And there were one or two in Washington, walking along the tree-lined streets on the Mall, the Capitol dome soft at one end and the Washington Monument stark at the other as the traffic passed, the gutters steamed, and the Metro rumbled.

There was one in Norfolk just now. There was a lone bicycle passing, its chain creaking in protest against the cold. There were the lights of campus, the soft ones in front of Webb Center and the brightly-lit windows of the library, the flashing yellow traffic lights and the Christmas-tree lighting of the port's cranes across the river. And there was the sound of a train, Norfolk Southern blowing for the crossings as he rolled out of the Lambert's Point coal yard.

And somehow, hearing and seeing all that just now gave me a sense of belonging to this place. I know what she sounds like, I know what she looks like, I know what she feels like. She is mine, now. And in a way, I am become hers.