Brookings’ night has its share of owls

Eric Ariel Salas

Eric Ariel Salas

Friday blackness. That is how it is this very moment. Interstate 90 looks like one of those highways in horror movies where creatures drop dead from the skies and into your windshield. The absence of light that could have come from civilization along this area in Wisconsin makes it hard to know what lies out there at this time of the night. Corn fields, lakes or just deserted plains, I could not exactly tell. Where few lamp posts stand are billboards pointing to eateries and gas stations. A car or two crosses the way once every 10 minutes. Other than that, nothing disturbs the blackness that takes place in the expanse where light seems to be unheard-of. Not even the starless skies connecting to the horizon somewhere is able to muddle up the supremacy of the swallowing darkness. Blackness creates a way for the horizon and the skies to mate with soft oohs and ahhs minus the spying eyes of traveling creatures.

I suspect a heavy rain would come sooner. The short dashes on the middle of the road are starting to reflect, moist from the intermittent drizzle. They used to be the inanimate whites that only illuminate when hit by bright headlights. This time around they manage to steal life from the rain droplets. The car windshield seems to agree with my thoughts as it slowly gathers moisture in a fashion akin to a bottle of cold soda left to sweat inside a humid room. Right after a flying bug hit the windshield, crushed by the impact, rain starts to fall. Blackness consumes every uncharted territory left for any flickering light. Blackness marries the rain to engender an even blacker environment.

Brookings has its share of blackness too. I could vividly recall the occasion when I came home around 2 a.m. from the office and noticed that the light posts that line 11th street were not lighted, and neither were those on the transverse streets. Residential houses that used to have incandescent light bulbs illuminating their verandas suddenly became devoid of the hot filaments – Thomas Edison could have freaked out. Strange was the only description suitable to the situation. For the very first time, there was a “brown out” in Brookings.

Truth be told, I am used to “brown outs” (or black outs, as Americans term the absence of lights due to power failure). In the Philippines, it could happen without warning, at any hour of the night, at any, without regard for city size. As a result, water supply is likely cut off and phone lines render no services. People choose not to expect quick resolutions as almost always, announced schedule for power restoration is never adhered to.

A day or two of waiting is normal. You can just picture how people jubilate upon the coming back of the “light”, reminiscent of salvation from a yearlong of curse. However, that moment when the black out happened in Brookings, I never had a doubt of the situation lingering till the morning. In fact, the following day, the oven toaster worked perfectly for my morning toast, no sign of the power hiatus early on.

Blackness in Brookings should also be identified with the old man who bikes around town with tow colored triangle flags and a two-wheeled cart behind. He sometimes stays in the middle of the road; warning lights flickering in front and at the back of his slow-moving wheels. I cannot count anymore the number of times this man has said hello to me when we crossed paths usually around midnight. Like me, this man is a night owl.

One man’s trash is another man’s treasure. The old man checks garbage bins for things that can be recycled and he does it when its dim and blackness has already silenced the dogs and people in deep slumber. When he reaches a slope, he gets off the wheels and pushes the load forward, slowly as if he is mathematically calculating the limiting friction, the force when equilibrium is on the point of being broken by his load sliding on the sloping concrete. I have hopes to talk to this man someday, know his name and ask him about living in general. I am certain there is more to this man than what meets the eye and his story is worth for the books.

It is almost midnight. One hour more, I will be reaching my destination. I am seeing town lights from afar. It is great to know that blackness feels like a familiar friend – calm, straightforward – the kind of friend that makes thoughts soar with creativity, the kind that makes one think of the old man and how he loves the serenity of blackness. Nothingness is clarity. Aren’t the empty vessels making the most noise?