Friday, December 23, 2011

It Came Upon a Midnight Bleary

A little holiday story for y'all. Have a great and peaceful week!

Legend has it that at midnight on Christmas Eve, the animals talk

Instead of descending on the parents one year for Christmas, we stayed nearby in Port Townsend, WA, so our elderly Red Heeler mix could be with us and not upset their new kitten. We found a hotel that, despite being right by the water, had reasonable rates and charged only a small fee for Molly the dog. 

We had tucked in for the night and were fast asleep when Molly vibed me with that particular Staring Dog skill designed to wake humans up. An audio escalation can accompany The Stare and this was the case. Since she usually holds it all night I knew that the holiday treats had probably taken their toll, and if she’s urgent I’m urgent. So I opened the door and let her out, thinking she’d just totter to the gravel area and pee. 

As I stood outside in my pajamas and bare feet I marveled at the clear, cold sky filled with clusters of stars and then noticed in my reverie that Molly had taken off! I knew it was bad if Miss-13-Year-Old-Thing was running that fast; I only hoped she’d find a place soon so she wasn’t spewing as she went. Her deafness and the late hour precluded any hysterical shouting so I shot out the door after her, only vaguely aware of the gravel, the cold, and bare feet. All I could see was the tip of her white tail lifted high (a bad sign) and her roto-legs pumping.

I think I’ve failed to mention that the temperature was about 25 degrees.

Finally she found a spot and went into her stance but I didn’t see anything happen; before I could get close enough for confirmation she took off again. Normally she’s too sleepy to do much at that hour so I couldn’t tell if she was in distress, invigorated to her thick-haired soul by the cold or just possessed by the holiday spirit. I corralled her back towards the room so I could at least get boots and coat. As is usual at night she was collarless, so rather than gently guiding her by the collar I had to nudge, straddle, and flail at her until finally we wobbled up to the room. She was still urgent so I announced to my beloved the need to turn the light on—always a welcome announcement at 3 a.m. I found collar, boots, and coat and we shuffled out again. 

A block later I realized I was walking briskly, still anxious. I made myself slow down. Blessedly shod, I began to relax and count my blessings. My inner voice that knows everything began talking:

I’ve got a coat. She’s got a collar. We’re outside. We’re just fine and we’ve got everything we need.  

I took in my surroundings now. I could see that all was aglitter with frost: boats, trees, rooftops, wooden railings, as if we were walking in a sparkling village from another time. The moon shone bright and high in the black, clear sky. The sound of water lapping against the docks drew me, my eyes darting to anything illuminated by the lunar light. I could hear masts shifting quietly, lanyards clanking softly against them. Punctuating the rows of dark docks were colored lights on some of the boats. There was not a human sound. A perfect stillness, occasionally broken by the soft chirps and calls of some kind of night bird. Molly was beyond happy, smelling new smells and very, very alert, her old cataract eyes straining to see everything at once, so lit up and so clear.

As we walked along the docks I became aware of a huffing sound close to the water. A seal? We drew closer to investigate, and then heard a splash. A dark shape spilled over the dock. Uh oh, raccoons, I thought, and moved away from the bushes. Raccoons are no longer cute in the city—I felt protective of Molly and strained to see. But I heard another splash, and then a huffing sound, and then a kind of clambering up the dock—puzzling, because raccoons don’t move that fast. Splash, clamber, huff. Repeat. At the end of the dock a small light slowly blinked, and in the occasional weak illumination I could see the whole dock moving. Whatever it was, there were many of them. I peered as hard as I could, wishing I’d brought a flashlight. 

Then one shape stood up, then another. Finally the culprits revealed themselves: eight or nine very busy, curious otters! Their tiny little chirps and calls were the “night birds” I’d been hearing at the edge of my consciousness; clusters of them swarmed all over the docks.

We stood for a long time watching the busy scene—I can verify that otters never stop moving—and then headed back to the room. Molly was still ears up and trotting, but this time I was very much with her.

(c) Caitlin Sullivan


  1. Sniffffffll!!

    I remember that. What a sweet story. I wonder if you will hear them again this year?

    I have always sat up with the pets on Christmas eve to hear them talk at midnight. And at some point, usually near 1 AM, said pet looks at me as if to say: "uh, you know, I'm talking at you all the time, right?" and then I go to bed. :) Can't wait to see you, sis!

  2. Love it! Otters are so intriguing!