–Only small people seek to make other people feel small.–
Our first night in the country house, the children all slept in mom’s and dad’s room. We offered this arrangement until they felt comfortable sleeping in their own rooms. One night several weeks after moving to her own room, Erin (5) couldn’t sleep.
“Daddy,” Erin called in a loud whisper.
“What?” I moaned groggily after a moment.
“The lightning is keeping me awake.”
“What lightning?” I yawned. “I don’t hear any lightning.”
“No—look—it’s flashing right now, without thunder or rain,” she persisted.
I pushed myself up onto an elbow with a groan. A light flashed rhythmically through the window, reflecting off the bedroom walls and keeping Erin, and now me, awake. I expected crashing thunder, but it didn’t come. I expected pouring rain, but it didn’t come. Still the lightning kept flashing, as steady as a slowly-ticking clock.
“Oh,” I said simply, coming to realization. “That’s the lighthouse.” My answer, however, did not satisfy her at all.
“A lighthouse?” Erin asked. “We live in Utah, Dad. It’s mostly desert. We are whole states away from the ocean. What’s a lighthouse doing here?”
By now everyone was awake and wondering at the pulsing lights. I told the children about the small airport a few miles away, and explained that the lighthouse showed pilots where the runway was at night so they wouldn’t crash in the dark.
The next night, I found Erin sitting on her bed gazing westward through her bedroom window toward the little airport. We couldn’t see the lighthouse, but we could see the light turning atop its tower. It flashed like a bright star when it pointed toward us, turning quickly away, then flashed again, then turned away again. After each white flash came a burst of green, like a giant emerald gleaming for a moment in the moonlight.
“I love lighthouses,” I said quietly. “When I was sixteen or so, a friend of Grandpa and Grandma used to taking me sailing off the Atlantic Highlands in his nineteen-foot sloop. From the sea we could see the Sandy Hook lighthouse standing proud and lonesome on its sandy seaside hill. And when your mother and I celebrated our honeymoon in Cape May, we climbed more than a hundred steps on a skinny spiral staircase to the top of the lighthouse. From there, we looked out over the huge waters, where the Delaware River meets the Atlantic Ocean. We held hands and breathed the fresh, salty air and watched the seagulls ride on invisible waves of air while fishermen cast their lures into the surf.”
Erin responded with her own sense of longing in her voice, “You must have been very happy holding Mamma’s hand at the top of the lighthouse, so high you could see the world.”
In the months that followed, I often found Erin sitting on her bed with her arms folded on the tile windowsill, watching the desert lighthouse sparkling its steady rhythm of white and green, white and green. Growing sleepier and sleepier, she would slip away from the window and into her bed.
One day Erin said to me, “I think our lighthouse is a perfectly wonderful lighthouse. I think the sky is the ocean, a calm ocean, and the stars are ships gliding through the water, looking to the lighthouse to guide the way.”
“I like that,” I responded. “And are the wheat and alfalfa fields the rolling clouds?”
“No,” she answered thoughtfully after a moment. “They are the flowing, waving sky, and the white morning-glory flowers are the stars.”
“I like that,” I said again. “Our own ocean and our own lighthouse, with us sailing together through the sky.”
* * *
I rolled over in bed one night, disturbed by an indefinable presence. My eyes suddenly atuned themselves to the spectral shape of Erin (9) standing darkly at the foot of my bed, like a ghost. She stood still, saying nothing, only staring at me. I started, my heart pounding rapidly in my chest, and my whole body quivered.
“What is it, Erin?” I managed to say after catching my breath.
“I’m scared,” she whispered, sounding terrified.
“Come here,” I offered, pulling her into bed between her mother and me. I stroked her face and hair and told her she would be alright, and she soon fell asleep.
Erin seemed frightened many nights, so I occasionally lay with her to help her fall asleep, humming randomly, making up little stories and songs. After several weeks, a simple tune and poem distilled itself from the randomness to become Erin’s lullaby. I sang it to her and to her sisters many nights as the years ticked by.
Good night my dear. Sleep well my dear.
Don’t fret or fear: I’ll be right here.
If you should worry in the night,
Just call my name, I’ll hold you tight.
You’ll see: you’ll be alright.
As I walked for months and years on Rabbit Lane, I noticed words and music spontaneously forming in my mind and coming forth from my lips. I began to hum, to sing, repeating tunes and phrases over and over until I felt they were fully birthed, whole and beautiful in their own right. I quickly learned that, for them to live, I needed to honor them by immediately putting pen to paper or fingers to keyboard. At first I drew my own musical staffs, then bought notation paper. If I put off the inspiration, I lost the inspiration, and whatever life had graced me with vanished as mysteriously as it had come. With this book, I will share with you the poetry and music of Rabbit Lane (in future posts). I hope that you enjoy it. Read it in your quiet moments. Sing it to your children. Create your own.
Roger Evans Baker is the author of Rabbit Lane: Memoir of a Country Road. The non-fiction book is available in print and for Kindle at Amazon. Rose Gluck Reviews recently reviewed Rabbit Lane in Words and Pictures.