Recalling dark nights full of creatures, bookstores and the odd lemon or two

I had never seen a coyote before moving to California so in my early days here, when I was six months pregnant, I would often take late evening walks when I couldn’t sleep. Sometimes I would wake my husband to walk with me, sometimes not. I felt that safe. If I ever encountered a coyote, I just thought it was a dog and kept walking.

In New York, where I was a single girl in the city for many years, there was always uncertainty in the air. It was part of the life routine. On many evenings I walked from my Greenwich Village apartment on West Tenth Street to the Eighth Street Bookstore that was open all night. It was relaxing to browse through the used books and sink into an overstuffed, if a bit lumpy, chair to read and people-watch.

Even at midnight, the streets were filled with walkers. Some had dogs. Some had insomnia. Some just didn’t want to be alone. There was a lot of that going around in New York City. While I was not afraid, I was alerted to caution. By comparison, I couldn’t imagine any danger in my little suburban neighborhood in California where the only sound I heard at night was the lemons falling from my backyard tree into the grass.

I was thinking of this as I walked on the first evening of Daylight Saving Time when darkness, the too-early unwanted guest, surrounded me just as a pack of coyotes began howling.

“Just keep walking and don’t let them smell your fear,” I recalled people telling me about encountering one of the animals.

If you have ever tried to mask the smell of your own fear against a real or perceived enemy, you know how that works out. As I walked home trying not to give away my fear by quickening my steps, I felt the uncertainty of my New York years in the air.

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The coyotes weren’t the real problem. They were merely a metaphor for the disharmony in our world that keeps howling in the distance, alerting the caution button to remain on high.

I walked home at a steady pace and headed up the driveway to the lemon tree that hugs the deck. The new crop of fruit was still small and green but I managed to pull a lemon from an unrelenting branch. Inside the house, I sliced it open and breathed in the memory of lemons falling peacefully on the grass.

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