Sometimes the slightest vision leaves me calmed by the joy only nature can reveal.

And so it came to me at the last full moon, the shining, ivory orb in the cold winter sky, held in the half fog of the stilled night, too frozen even for the mice and one bigger animal — presumably a squirrel — that had found a way into the attic the night before.

“It might be a r-a-t,” said a friend of mine who spells half her dialogue with the world but this word in particular, to blunt its sharp anxiety-producing effect on me — the way parents will spell out words to avoid detection by their children. If she never uttered the word “rat,” the animal might not ever materialize as one, might remain locked in the ever so slightly more socially acceptable form of a s-q-u-i-r-r-e-l.

“I know t-h-a-t,” I said, submitting to the rules of magical thinking that hold that what is never said can never truly be. I was fairly well convinced, anyway, that the intruder was a squirrel; the night was frigid and one of these local, bold bird-feeder thieves lives in a high nest of leaves in the canopy next door. Had I been a canny squirrel, I would have quit that abode, too, in favor of the attic of a cottage in which heat rises.

The dog and I had listened to the animal rearranging furniture up there, dragging and bumping with complete disregard for our sensibilities. Then imagined hat boxes began to tumble over, followed by a prolonged scattering across the floor (or ceiling, as it was from our side) of what sounded like old baseball cards or ancient family photographs, browned with age and the fading, generally peevish countenances of women in long, burlap-like woolen skirts and blouses requiring ironing and a neck no more stout than a well-fed turkey’s to be comfortable. Another “thunk” seemed to suggest an old, forgotten cane had been forced to attempt to trot one-legged across the room, and had failed.

I marshaled my courage, got up and retrieved a worn but sentimentally favored walking stick I had carved years before from a branch of the prominent linden that had issued its heady perfume into the yard each summer. But I couldn’t dawdle over memories it evoked; the present was a moment of crisis, attack even. I did not have the luxury of lingering over scenes and time passing reminiscent of “To the Lighthouse.” I was at war, pursuing God’s perfect incarnation of supercilious, advanced intelligence. I took the stick and struck it against the ceiling like a wind-blown, wide-opening umbrella: wham, wham, wham — moving around the room with my gunshot sounds of wood on wood.

The report of a crude arsenal did not in the least stop, or even interrupt, the critter’s settling in, so at last I surrendered — as is my spotty history of dominion over squirrels — and turned on a box fan meant for the window fan but stored in the offseason on the floor near the bed, so its sound could drown out the noise of activities overhead.

I felt defeated by yet another encounter with a mammal that seems always my superior, though the setback seemed incidental to the dog, who went promptly back to sleep. I lay awake, idiotically now trying to distinguish the sounds I was attempting to cover from the ordinary groans and sighs of the house at night, but such is the illogic of insomnia combined with squirrels.

Miraculously I finally fell asleep, and all the chaos had quieted by morning. When I returned to the bedroom that evening, I found to my amazement that the creature had abdicated its throne above us, and we were alone. The dog snored; I began typing quietly, and suddenly I noticed beyond the window something comforting, that the liquid moon, diluted by fog, was keeping an eye on us and all the weary world.

It filled me with inexplicable delight, watching it through the glass panes, bright and seemingly attentive one moment and obscured by cloud the next. After the first several minutes of bright broadcast light, turning the yard into a stage, the moon withdrew, and I saw it only briefly a couple more times before darkness and the overcast sky wore it down, and out.

But it seemed to embody a sense of order going on above and around me, a feeling of being a cog for once in something bigger that I could adore: the creation, the stars, and a way off, the open sea. We all need our symbols of security, and this is mine: the cold moon beyond my reach that touches deep into my heart, then moves on, with other places to go and be, in the long — and hoped, eternal — rotation, the return we await, and without knowing why, know we need.

North Cairn can be contacted at 791-6325 or at:

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