Halfway to the North Pole

Outside the window, night is full-black, muffling sound. On this side, my vague reflection twitches. Not because I’m stressed or upset–well, maybe at not sleeping rather than staring at my own ghostly reflection, unsure of what to do with myself. So I open the laptop and play with words.

Sleep has been an erratic quality these past few weeks. Most of the time, I’m just up, sipping chamomile tea, and reading.

Roger Ekirch, professor of History at Virginia Tech, studied sleep patterns.

His research found that we didn’t always sleep in one eight hour chunk. We used to sleep in two shorter periods, over a longer range of night. This range was about 12 hours long, and began with a sleep of three to four hours, wakefulness of two to three hours, then sleep again until morning.

References are scattered throughout literature, court documents, personal papers, and the ephemera of the past. What is surprising is not that people slept in two sessions, but that the concept was so incredibly common. Two-piece sleeping was the standard, accepted way to sleep.

This seems to have been most common in the long nights of winter before advent of the electric lights which prolonged our days.

I’ve been napping a lot this winter. In fact, for a while in mid to late December, I had more trouble being awake than sleeping. Long afternoon naps were my normal pattern. Maybe I’ve used up my quota of sleep for now.

Or maybe, living halfway between the equator and the North Pole as I do, it’s a normal state for these long winter nights.

I must admit, it’s a seductive time. There are no sounds. None. Not even the far off hum of traffic on the freeway some miles off. I can always hear it in the morning, but not now. No wind rattles the few shrunken oak leaves which I know still cling, out of stubbornness I expect, to winter branches.

Only the soft velvet of night.

From Wikipedia: delayed sleep-wake phase disorder, is a chronic dysregulation of a person’s circadian rhythm (biological clock), compared to the general population and relative to societal norms.

And there we are, at societal norms, few of which I’m very normal at.

I often think of my northern European ancestors when I’m awake like this, and see someone in a chair with a lap robe, next to a fire, tilting a book just so in order to see the words in reflected firelight. And what would they have thought, I wonder, if they could have seen into the future some two hundred years to a woman sitting in the glow of a computer screen.

Frank Kafka wrote at night. Hmmmm. That brings up images of cockroaches on their backs, cockroaches being nocturnal animals themselves.

Wikipedia provides a long list of nocturnal animals, in case you’re interested. The list begins with aardvark. I don’t know that I’ve ever met an aardvark although nighttime coyotes are common where I’m from. Well, not so much in the city, but they are on the farm.

Here’s a line from one of my night poems set on the farm: coyotes run through the draw/warble sweet and high/as if they were angels, singing in tongues.

Maybe that’s the reason to be awake in the deep of night, halfway to the North Pole…magic happens.