For nine long months or more, I have chosen to sleep downstairs to provide my dog Blueboy with my company. His mind is going, so he often howls or barks in the night as if he’s calling out to someone or some thing I cannot see, while he sometimes pads around the darkened rooms downstairs, confronting other entities that are either real but invisible to me or else are products of his fevered imagination.
The nature of his reality makes no difference to me, because there is nothing to fear from him or from what he sees, but I have to be there to quieten him before he wakes half of the village. He clearly finds consolation in my presence, as he will often wander across to where I’m lying in a fitful sleep to lick my face, either as an act of kindness to me, as he sees it, or perhaps because doing so comforts him in some way.
There is no pattern to his behaviour, because while there are some nights when he cannot keep still for more than a few minutes, there are others when he sleeps soundly for hours on end. The one constant in all this is that my slumber is always interrupted, with the result that I have come to see more sunrises than ever before in my life.
I’ve always been nocturnal, so there have been many times when I’ve either worked or celebrated for long enough to greet the dawn, but Blueboy’s madness has meant that I’ve never seen so many consecutive dawns, perhaps as many as two hundred in a row. And before the Dawn, there is the darkest night.
When I’ve finished writing or otherwise working for the night and when Blueboy’s eventually drifted off to sleep, I leave my study then make my way through my home to the back door. I only have to take one step outside to be able to sit on a wooden chair, with its back against the wall, which allows me a view of my sprawling garden and rundown outbuildings, the hills and trees beyond and high above, the star-strewn night sky.
Before now, I’ve written many tens of thousands of words relating my experiences outdoors by night and this is something I continue to work on now in the form of a book provisionally entitled Otherworld, in which I’m recording as many as I can remember of the experiences I’ve had in those strange places with a notable atmosphere, or which are said by others to be haunted.
Even when I’m not in a place with an inexplicable aura or in one reputed to be a place where the supernatural manifests itself in some form, I long ago learned to appreciate the beauty of the British countryside after the sun has set beyond the hills. Time has only served to enhance this ability, thus bringing me pleasures that I suspect are undreamed of by most others who keep more regular hours and who perhaps live in a more urban setting than my remote outpost here in Devon.
Before taking my place and reclining in the chair outside, I turn off all the lights in the house, so that no artificial illumination contaminates the night land that always seems to loom up at me. Just a few feet beyond the chair is a retaining wall for the high garden, but it is not the relative height of the wall or the wild tangle beyond that gives the impression of overwhelming me, albeit in a benign way.
Instead, it is as if night tumbles from the sky, as if soft clouds had wafted to Earth in the form of shadows, silently settling and spreading in uneven mounds to obscure the outlines of the plants I know to be there. The shadowland is formed and moulded by starlight, by moonlight and by the drifting clouds above, so it can change subtly with each minute that passes in a way that holds my attention yet soothes me at the same time.
I can lose myself for hours on end like this, in the same way, I suspect, that others choose to meditate by candlelight because the gentle, flickering flame from a candle captivates without blinding. I also never cease to wonder at the two evening primrose plants close to the edge of the garden, who unfurl their saffron petals at night to drink in the ethereal light emanating from the heavenly bodies above, as if the blossoms here on Earth were somehow in communion with the Moon, the constellations and the occasional flare of a shooting star hurtling past in its death-throes of bronze, green or sometimes purple light.
During the summer, there are times when a soft breeze stirs the riot of rosemary, mint and thyme at the borders of my garden, bringing a fragrance that stirs the soul. These same winds sway the stems and leaves of the grass and wild flowers, producing a sibilant noise like a yearning whisper that makes me strain to catch the words the distant voice is trying to convey, while there are times when the furtive passage of a creature such as a rabbit or feral cat is betrayed by the barely perceptible rustle in what is otherwise an almost tangible blanket of silence.
Sometimes these creatures will flash past my feet like fleeing phantoms, allowing me a glimpse of shadow forms as Dawn begins to imbue this night world with her subtle, subdued radiance, while there are other times when the silhouette of an owl drifts across the stars to disappear somewhere into the trees close by in the night land.
All these visions and sounds and aromas are food for the soul, but none more than the fox who comes as if from nowhere to sit quietly in the grass, just a few feet away from me, staring at me for reasons I cannot fathom before she eventually rises, stretches and returns to what is unquestionably her realm in the woods and fields that surround me, her form melting imperceptibly into the great beyond like a ghost at dawn.
Life can be so beautiful.