When the publisher asked me if I would like a review copy of Burning the Midnight Oil: Illuminating Words for the Long Night’s Journey into Day by Phil Cousineau I am glad I said yes, please. I’ve gotten away from accepting review copies these days, but this little book was a collection of prose and poetry about night and it was being published on winter solstice so I figured, why not?
I am and always have been a morning person. I love the long days of summer when the sun rises at 5:30 and sets after 9. I love to wake up on a Saturday morning with the first light of dawn, love the cool quiet of the morning. Actually early morning is not quiet in summer. The birds are very loud and I love them chattering outside my bedroom window in the apple tree. What is quiet is the human world. Even in the city. And it feels good to be moving in the rising sun in this quiet city. Peaceful. A gift that never lasts long which makes it all the more precious.
Winter is hard on me with the short days and long hours of darkness. It is hard to get up in the morning in the dark that feels like the middle of the night. Since daylight is my time and there is so little of it I feel sluggish and slow. If I could turn into a bear and hibernate all winter, that would suit me just fine.
I have never understood those who call themselves night owls. My sister is one and always when my eyes begin to droop at 9 she is just getting going. She, and others I know, tell me I am missing out, that being up late into the night is more exciting than waking at dawn. They see the dawn too, they tell me, just before they go to bed. For a few years in college I managed to be a semi-night owl. I had some all night study sessions and essay writing marathons. But it never felt right. I think owls and larks will never be able to truly understand each other. It doesn’t keep us from wondering what we might be missing out on though.
And so Burning the Midnight Oil was a wonderful book. Organized in sections that journey through the night from twilight until dawn, it mixes prose and poetry, fiction and nonfiction. I laughed and I was moved. I marked so many things in it I wish I could copy them all out here but copyright and all that. I can share bits and pieces to entice you though. Like part of a Mary Oliver poem “Last Night the Rain Spoke to Me”
I was standing
under a tree.
The tree was a tree
with happy leaves,
and I was myself,
and there were stars in the sky
that were also themselves
at the moment
at which moment
my right hand
was holding my left hand
which was holding the tree
which was filled with stars
There is a description of a scene by American journalist Mort Rosenblum about the moon over the Seine in which he says, “The moon mugged me.” Isn’t that a wonderful image? Being mugged by the moon.
In another piece by Joanne Warfield, a photographer and artist, she writes:
I long for the dark, safe womb of the Universe, the purity and freedom from form. I long for the primordial blackness from where the spark of life was ignited, and for the infinite potential of Source.
American poet Antler asks us in “Campfire Talk” to:
Renew the pledge of friendship round the fire.
Renew the pledge of love around the fire.
Make the vow of vows under the stars.
Renew, renew around the campfire
in the wilderness under a wilderness of stars.
And then silence, silence and the expiring fire
and the silent continuous movement
of Stars and Earth in Space
Till the embers fade away —
and with the first light of day
shoulder your pack and head forth.
But what book about the night would be complete without a few pieces on reading? French-Canadian journalist Rob LaChance has a wonderful story called “The Dangers of Reading All Night.” It begins with old Mr. Lynch looking over his bookshelves for the perfect book. All those books to choose from and “each unread one felt like a reproach.” He finally makes his choice:
All I want to do is read, he muttered to himself as he settled down into his trusty reading chair, a puce-colored piece of furniture only a grandmother and a book-hound could love. Mr. Lynch stared at the heavy tome in his hand and quickly calculated the number of chapters he could read before dawn. Now this is heaven, he thought. This was what he lived for, the anticipation of a languorous night of reading. Smacking his lips with glee, he cracked open the Gibbon book and began to revel in the Romans’ slow descent into madness.
That’s something we can all relate to I think whether we read all night or all day.
If you are looking for an eclectic collection for dipping into especially before bed whether that is at sunset or sunrise for you, you won’t go wrong with Burning the Midnight Oil.