These crisp fall nights are magical, with our cricket choir, and soft breezes tickling the wind chimes. “We should sleep outside tonight,” says my husband, and, since he has the soul of a weatherman, I listen, and we trundle outside in our fleece boots with our flashlights. Soon we'll be taking down our screen doors, building fires in the stove and putting warm blankets on our indoor bed. Summer nights outdoors become a memory.
One of the best things about sleeping outside under the stars is waking up in the morning, with the coral pink horizon fluffed out along the line of the slate blue ocean, paler blue sky above. It's kind of an inverse sunset. Instead of dramatic orange and magenta flames where the sea and sky meet, these gentle morning colors, seen through the floating veil of the mosquito net, give the day a calm beginning.
How many of us in our modern world are able to see the sunrise, flashing at the ridge-top, brightly transforming dawn into day? The theory that much of the human race’s alienation is a result of our lack of connection to the rhythms and beauty of the natural world makes perfect sense here in Big Sur. Humans naturally relax in nature, feeling a deep trust, born of a millennia of nurturing by this planet.
Waking up to songbirds' dawn chorus is pure delight. Sometimes flocks of doves swoop down from the ridge line above us, headed off for their morning meeting in the trees below. Or sleek crows sail by, powered by their melodious wing-beats. They always seem like they’re talking to each other. They’ll chase red-tail hawks away from their nests, two or three of them bird-dogging the larger bird, shrieking their disapproval.
Every vision has its price, of course. There are restless nights when we inadvertently open the net and mosquitoes bite our fingers and faces. Those ace pilots of the wee hours, strafing us, alerting us with their unmistakable high-pitched whine. Fortunately I find it humorous to smack myself repeatedly in the dark, with little or no success. Sometimes we turn on the flashlight and hunt them down against the netting.
A touch of insomnia is a good thing outdoors: we wake to watch the Milky Way, which stretches from the ocean below to the mountaintop behind us, slowly moving across the heavens during the night. Orion returns this month, emerging from the south flank of the Partington watershed, at I’d say around 2 am. We watch the phases of the moon for optimal sleep quality, a goose-down feather new moon is best, not the overpowering street-light full moon, though it can produce epic dreams.
Initially, sleeping outside by myself was a little scary. The bed is appealing— sturdy pine beams beneath a sheet of plywood, mattress topped by a cushy feather bed, soft jersey cotton bedding, yet it sits on the point of the hill, and feels exposed to, well, the entire universe.
It’s not that I fear wild animals, though barking coyotes can give one pause, and the stray rattlesnake on a hot summer night can give you a huge shot of adrenalin. It just feels so very solitary: me, millions of stars stretching out above, the huge mountain beneath and behind me, and the endless ocean, which sometimes sparkles with reflected starlight.
“Lord, your sea is so vast, my ship is so small,” as the old saying goes. Sleeping under the stars is glorious and daunting. And, then, there’s always the aliens who visit from the far reaches of the galaxy. (But that’s a subject for another post!)