solstice: two-cat night

Slip out at the end of the day, purse strap over shoulder and CDs in hand, and look east; the hills, visible over Huntsville's skyline, are darkening fast. Look west, toward my commute, and the sun might've hung around for one last metaphorical cup of coffee but is more than likely on its way to say hello to the next time zone over.

Put the car in drive, and bounce over the railroad tracks on the way to the elevated freeway that takes you home, and you have a choice: you can either slip the earpiece over your left ear and choose a name out of your phone's address book and speed-dial the corresponding number, or you can slide in the next in a never-ending parade of CDs and sing yourself home.

In the summers, the sun is my companion home; my time-shifted schedule means I am home and hours into my daily dose of home life before the sun ever thinks of greeting the horizon. In winter, though, they're cozy companions before I emerge from the windowless server room, and I am the latecomer to the party.


The shortening of day brings the lengthening chill of night. It's a chill that brings out the flannel blankets and causes the cats to huddle ever closer. I refer to truly cold nights as "two-cat nights," nights in which I know I'll awaken to Tenzing draped over my knees and Edmund snuggled lengthwise against my legs. My closet is not well-insulated. Stepping from the warmth of a two-cat night to the shivery chill that is part and parcel of picking work clothes is my least favorite part of the morning, and it makes my sleepy brain think longingly of summers past, and summers coming.

We mark our lifetimes by milestones: births, deaths, calendars. Part of me still remembers the ache of unfamiliarity the first time I got onto I-565; I looked around and thought, "For better or worse, this is my home" and wondered if it would ever become familiar. In the years since, it has; I can pass by that same stretch of road now and feel the same sort of rightness and orientation that a magnet must feel as it pulls toward north. In those years I've learned the rhythms of this area: the growth and harvest of cotton, the emergence and shedding of leaves, of days growing shorter and colder then gradually lengthening again.

It's a dance that will outlast me.

Tomorrow: Christmas Eve, and a time to reflect. Don't mind me. I'm starting early.