Shelter amid cold winter nights

“The first awareness of night was a world of darkness bounded by a streetlight’s glow, the barking of a distant dog, the stars, trees, dim houses. The sense of being enclosed by the night, of being protected, as it were, by the darkness, is ancient.” 

–August Derleth

January. The sun set half past four o’clock. Air temperature registered fifteen degrees Fahrenheit. As wind gusts rocked the automobile from side to side, the windchill felt more like five below zero. Pools of parking lot lights blurred from time to time with blowing snow.

I waited outside the grocery store for the oldest child’s shift to end. In better weather, the child walked to the grocery store. Or rode a scooter. But the long expected Wisconsin winter arrived with a fury. And walking, or riding, to work presented challenges.


The old auto’s engine idled as the heater worked to warm the vehicle’s interior. In spite of the effort, my feet were cold after twenty minutes of waiting in the south part of the parking lot. I wore insulated gloves as I read a library book from the glow of the parking lot lights.

As the heater fan moaned and engine grumbled, I thought of night and darkness and protection. From one of the books in the Sac Prairie Saga, these ideas rose before me like my breath in the winter air. The long nights of winter. The home brightened by Christmas tree lights. The contrast of the light and darkness. Protection and vulnerability. Is it vulnerability? Or destruction? Does not Epiphany land during the longest nights of the astronomical year?

A truck parked in front of my automobile. Head lamps blinded me. I looked away to the store exit until the driver turned off the headlamps and shuffled into the grocery store entrance. My eyes returned to the book and reread the passage. And the a half dozen more pages before a familiar stride passed below the parking lot light nearest me. I welcomed the child into the warm protection of the vehicle and drove home.

The young moon, a waxing crescent, appeared in the southwest like a cold smile. Jupiter, above the right tip of the crescent, glared down upon the frozen fields and village. I recalled not what we talked about on the way home, but the idea of shelter and safety persisted in my thoughts.

Later that night. After supper. After even prayers. I wrestled with an illustration. Measured, composed, and sketched. A world of darkness “bounded” by street lamps? The image of darkness leaping or jumping over glowing spheres of street lamps captivate my thoughts as I inked over the pencil marks on the illustration paper. Pen stroke after pen stroke filled the page until my eyes grew weary. And I surrendered to that ancient enclosure of night.

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