The Summer Solstice on June 21 celebrates the year’s longest day. But commentator Rawlins Gilliland says he longs for life after dark.
I have always loved the night. Whereas daytime is usually any grown-up’s obstacle course of time-sensitive responsibilities, the nighttime suspends the pressured pace of daily life. Yet, once we’re convinced this half of our 24-hour life cycle is the ‘proper’ time for slumber, many of us begin equating ‘night owls’ with ‘dead beats’.
We all know the maxim “early to bed and early to rise makes a man healthy, wealthy and wise.” But a true night person might counter that argument by saying early to bed is also a recipe for adventure-less living devoid of poetic passions. With or without the gilded lily of cocktails, I dare say more people have fallen in love after midnight than after lunch.
To genuine night owls, nothing is more spiritually productive than life after dark when jazz makes sense and conversations become intimate. There is poise in the night that allows our minds to wander; where dreams seem intuitive and nostalgia feels timely. It’s why I often nap before rising with the moon.
Growing up, I was never given summer bedtime curfews so I became moonstruck discovering a radio show called Music Till Dawn. This 1950s program introduced me to the softer side of modern jazz; artists with a more lyrical style such as Andre Previn, George Shearing and Cal Tjader. It was the sultry soundtrack to the open-window starry still of the night. Musical interludes soulfully shared with invisible listeners while others slept. That urban nocturne became my imaginary friend for life.
However beautiful beneath the sun, the great outdoors is never greater than when the silent night becomes interplanetary. I’ve seen the indescribable Grand Canyon wearing a blanket of white snow beneath a full moon. I’ve watched the unspoiled Big Bend Texas dark in August when the Perseid meteor showers stream across the horizon like joyous children waving sparklers.
Some cities own the night, none more than New York, which lapses at sunset into a magnetic lover. The city by day has pragmatic energy and urgent compulsions while after dark it becomes more seductive and docile with a sensuous whiff of danger and always the promise of unexpected serendipity. To truly savor the fascination a New York night proffers, one should walk.
Last year, I caught an after-midnight jazz set in Greenwich Village. Rather than cab or subway back to the Upper East Side where I was staying, instead I trekked 100 blocks up 5th Avenue until sunrise; seeing skyscraper silhouettes cast against the ‘wee small hours of the morning’ mist. It was a visual and sensory affair to remember.
Sadly, in most adult minds, the term “all-nighter” suggests insomnia or college life or sleep-deprivation after a newborn’s arrival so the romance is lost in middle-aged translation. But I confess to being an arrested development poet who never outgrew feeling never more alive than when I’m dead tired at dawn saying goodnight with the morning light. Once and forever, it’s this lifetime’s midsummer night’s dream come true.
Rawlins Gilliland is a Dallas writer.