A twinkle in my bloodshot eyes | TheUnion.com

A twinkle in my bloodshot eyes

Back in the city, sleeping outdoors required blinders and earplugs. As I recall, the only lights in the nighttime sky were police helicopter searchlights, and they didn’t form easily recognized constellations. Cars backfired, sirens wailed, and everywhere in the background, engines droned.

The country sky is different. On a cloudless night here at Clear Creek Ranch, stars of all sizes glitter in clumps and clusters, filling the arc above my head. As I doze and wake, the stars shift during their journey across the evening sky. A light breeze tousles tree branches, and a bullfrog bellows to his beloved. The small, quick shapes of bats flit like butterflies in the dark, gorging on thousands of mosquitoes (but never quite all of them).

One fitful night of that, on a lounge chair that wouldn’t quite flatten out, was all I could tolerate. The supple cat-like spine of my youth had abandoned me, like so many other body parts had. I felt like I’d slept in a ditch.

A physical therapist Rolfed my legs back into working order, and my wife wore out a paint roller brushing calamine lotion onto the mountain range of bug bites rising from every bit of skin I’d foolishly exposed to the night air.

“We need a screen porch, old paint,” my wife insisted.

“But then I can’t look up and see the stars,” I said.

“Get one with no roof.”

“This may come as a surprise, but most of the bugs that bit me last night didn’t walk to work,” I said. “They’ll just fly over the walls. And nobody makes a screen porch with a screened-in roof.”

“You could build it with a screened roof,” she said.

Notice the key phrase in her last remark, “I could build it.” That meant tools and plans, several trips to the lumberyard, and more tools. And splinters and tears, of course.

The challenge had been made, the handkerchief dropped, the chip knocked off, the line crossed, the gauntlet slapped. My sleep-starved brain was drowning in such a sudden surge of testosterone that I actually felt my beard grow.

Let’s just say that “eventually” such a porch was erected with screened-in walls and ceiling and a special bug-proof (and cat-proof) door. As we lay there on that inaugural night counting stars, the cats laid bets with the bugs on the number of times I’d let them in and out before a fuse flew.

By a fluke of topography and natural acoustics, yelling neighbor kids, who were terrorizing each other in the dark over three-quarters of a mile away, sounded as if they were on the porch with us.

“I’m renaming this the scream-porch,” I growled.

“Umph,” my wife snored.

And then there was the night I discovered that rainwater passes through screening as easily as moonbeams do.

“I sense that your enthusiasm for the great almost-outdoors is dampening,” my wife said clairvoyantly.

“You don’t want to read any more of my mind,” I said, wringing another gallon from my nightshirt.

“I always skip the dirty parts anyway,” she said.

But on clear, balmy nights, when the neighbor kids are carefully tucked away in jail, there is nothing like falling asleep to the sound of grazing deer crashing through the underbrush, bonking into the trees, accompanied by the background sounds of crickets and bullfrogs.

If only there were a volume control. But this is Clear Creek Ranch, after all, and that is a project for another day.

Life in the country … I thank my lucky stars.


Mike Drummond is a Nevada County writer whose column appears on Tuesday. You can write him in care of The Union, 464 Sutton Way, Grass Valley, 95945; or e-mail him at miked@theunion.com.

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