Here Comes The Night

When not at home I spend many hours erect, most of them devoted to walking around here and there or, occasionally, impersonating a cigar store Indian in front of Wawa and 7-Eleven food markets. At the home front, though, it’s a different story. There, when not sleeping, I sit. Mostly I rest my bony ass on the living room sofa, my assigned chair at the dining room table, or the chair I’m occupying at this moment while pecking away at a computer keyboard. And sometimes I move outdoors to a chair on the large wooden structure that is seven feet above ground and bolted to the rear of my house. The existence of said structure was a prime reason 12 years ago that my wife Sandy and I decided to buy our house. Shepherded around from home to home by our real estate agent, I took one look at the deck and kind of fell in love with it. I’d never before considered owning a deck, but instantly that became an idea I wasn’t going to discard. A month or two later the house with deck became ours.

Now, I’ve given lots of time to the deck since moving in, but in the last year I’ve fallen down on the job. Somehow I pretty well forgot that the deck was there. How is that possible? Sandy didn’t forget, but that’s because she isn’t an idiot, unlike me. She lolls on the deck many mornings. It’s such a lovely creation. And its aims are pure: to provide pleasant views for our eyes and what passes for fresh air for our lungs.

Thankfully, times have changed. So, brothers and sisters, gather around. I’m here to announce that those days of neglect have ended, as I’ve headed out to the deck, usually at night, a lot in the past couple of weeks. I’m hooked once again on deck usage. Hallelujah! My sinful ways shall be no more!

I slipped outside to the deck at about 8:40 PM on Monday last week. The Sun had dipped below the horizon 10 minutes earlier. Plenty of light, though, remained in the skies. I took my seat beside the glass and metal table that takes up much of the deck’s floor space and placed upon it my tools for the night: a portable radio, a box of Cheez-It crackers and a glass of iced tea. The afternoon had been killer hot, with temps reaching well into the 90s Fahrenheit. But the night, what with the Sun gone and a calm but steady breeze doing its thing, was comfortable.

I decided to pay attention to what was happening around me, something I often avoid doing for fear of discovering more than my nearly-filled-to-capacity brain can handle. I looked up. Wow! The clouds were beautiful, set against a sky that quickly was turning from baby blue to deeper shades. And the trees filling and surrounding my backyard appeared more solid and wise than normal. The scene was quiet for the most part because, for reasons unknown, humans were not to be heard, nor were barking dogs. Maybe the canines and their masters were all indoors watching must-see TV shows such as The Real Housewives Of Beverly Hills and Chrisley Knows Best. Whatever the reasons, I wasn’t complaining.

There were noises though. I astonished myself by noticing four different patterns of birdsong. Needless to say, however, there was no way I knew which species were involved. I have a hard enough time trying to visually identify a bird, let alone its tune. Hell, I’d barely recognize a cardinal if one were to fly up beside me and give me a loving peck on the cheek. “Ouch, you bright red motherf**ker, that hurts!”

Odd thing is that at about 9:00 PM, when darkness was filling the air, the birds stopped chirping away. Do they go to sleep when light has faded? That’s something I never thought about before. And, once again, it’s something I do not have any answers to. I hope that somebody out there will clue me in.

The small white dot is Jupiter

A few minutes after nine o’clock I spotted a bright light finding its way into open space from behind a neighbor’s enormous tree. It sat in the sky all alone and seemed to be slightly larger than a star. Therefore, I brilliantly concluded, it was a planet! And, as I learned the following day by speaking with astronomer Derrick Pitts at Philadelphia’s Franklin Institute, the orb was Jupiter, which is very visible at night this time of year in my region of the globe. I went inside to get my binoculars. Back on the deck I pulled them from their pouch and took a look at the gleaming spot. That view didn’t much improve anything. I did, nonetheless, admire the bold whiteness a bit more than I had with my naked eye. I’m going to ask Santa Claus to bring me a telescope later this year. I could use one.

The dimmer dot is Arcturus. The brighter one is Jupiter.

And the nighttime show continued. The Moon hadn’t yet risen, but another bright object, dimmer than Jupiter, was higher in the sky and east of that bad boy planet. It was the star Arcturus, Mr. Pitts told me the following day. Arcturus is one of the brightest stars in the Northern Hemisphere’s night sky. Natch, I’d never heard of it before.

Well, I had had a fine time staring into space and letting my mind wander the celestial pathways. Dozens of Cheez-Its had gone down my gullet very admirably, the iced tea had refreshed, as it’s supposed to do, and the songs on the radio had provided excellent company. And so I picked up my belongings one hour after entering the deck and returned to the bosom of my home. I was in better form emotionally and mentally than before my outdoors adventure began.

This article now is nearing its end. I’ve said just about everything I wanted to say. Which, admittedly, isn’t all that much. Nobody is going to confuse me with Henry David Thoreau, clearly. Such is life. What’s more, I hear the call of the wild. I can’t resist. It is quite dark outside at this moment. I will stop typing. To the deck I’m going to go.

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Ashes: Lindi Ortega’s Great Song Heard In The Great Outdoors

This is a story about life’s little surprises, about how one thing leads to another. In this gentle instance an unexpected impulse to relocate my duff from indoors to outside resulted in my hearing a song that I can’t get out of my head.

There’s something naturally relaxing about sitting outdoors when the weather is pleasant. Some people sit in parks, some on beaches, some a few feet from doors to their homes. One of my pals lives in Philadelphia in an old comfortable house, a sprawling place with a front porch. On evenings when the Philadelphia Phillies are taking the field, my friend positions himself in a porch chair, balances a small radio on a table beside him and turns on the Phillies station. He remains there till the game is over. This routine helps him stay calm.

A scene at dusk: Cheez-Its, iced tea and portable radio on the deck table behind my house. Photograph by Sandra Cherrey Scheinin
A scene at dusk: Cheez-Its, iced tea and portable radio on the deck table behind my house.
Photograph by Sandra Cherrey Scheinin

I should emulate my friend’s fresh air example more often. I used to sit outside frequently, mostly on the deck behind my house, but haven’t much in the last few years. Most of my sitting and downtime in that stretch has taken place on the sofa in my living room. On a recent Monday night, however, a powerful urge to visit the great outdoors came out of nowhere, and so I stepped onto the deck as dusk was settling in, and sat at the deck table. The temperature was ideal, the evening peaceful. At least ten houses are within 100 feet of the deck, but they became less and less visible through the trees as blackness approached. These were conditions that agreed with my inner yearnings. That is, I felt isolated, away from it all. And three things made the scenario even better: Food, beverage and music. Munching on Cheez-Its,  sipping iced tea and, most important to this story, listening to my portable radio, I was as relaxed as I’m capable of becoming. The radio was tuned to WXPN.

In the Philadelphia region WXPN is the go-to station for rock, folk, blues and nearly any other non-Ariana Grande musical genre you can name. XPN plays everything from The Beatles to Mavis Staples to Caetano Veloso to Laura Marling. And the station makes it a mission to keep up with the continual avalanche of recorded music from established and never-heard-of-them-before musicians. Airing on XPN as I sat beneath the stars and amidst pulsating fireflies was a program showcasing nothing but new songs. And the tune that issued from my radio at about 9:00 PM swept me from my state of relaxation to a much higher plane.

There are certain songs over the years that infatuated me from the moment I first heard them. In 1968 it was Jumpin’ Jack Flash, by the Stones. To this day it stirs me up every time I hear it. California Stars, by Billy Bragg and Wilco (and lyrics by Woody Guthrie), brought me to my knees in 1998. I’ve added another number to the list of instant infatuations, all praise to WXPN’s new music show. The song is Ashes. Its singer and writer is Lindi Ortega. Ashes overwhelmed me on my deck. I think that the calm within and without me had unlocked fully the doorways to my emotions and ushered Ashes in. From its opening notes, Ashes in a good way made me shiver and melt. It went straight to my truest spaces.

I had come across Lindi Ortega’s name in print in the past but wasn’t familiar with her music. As I’ve learned, she’s a Canadian now living in Nashville and plays and composes smart country-hued material à la Emmylou Harris and Patty Griffin. With Ashes she and her production team have created a wonder, a stirring song about the need for love, the pain of loss. The heartbeat bass lines, the steady tension-inducing drumming, Lindi’s pleading and impassioned vocals that grow as the song develops, the soul-gripping guitar solo at the song’s three minute mark . . . Ashes to me is perfection. “Darling, this is madness, why don’t you come back to me?/Don’t leave me in the ashes of your memory.” Indeed. Indeed. When Lindi next appears in or around Philadelphia I’ll be at the show. For now, I’ll listen to Ashes on YouTube, where Lindi has gifted it to the world in advance of its release next month on her album Faded Gloryville. I recommend that you do the same. Here is Ashes:

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