Posted in Night, Stars

Notes From The Night Shift

Thirty-seven and sunny. Four does stroll across the back hillside as I write.

The newborn settled into my shoulder with baby murmurs and fell asleep. It was the depth of the night shift. Snow pelted sideways against nurserynight shift, newborn windows and I sat in a rocking chair, wrapped around a warm baby.

I was a young staff nurse on the maternity service of a Salt Lake City hospital. When “the OB side” was quiet at night, nurses would wander over to the nursery to help. “Help” often meant we’d park ourselves in rocking chairs, feed one fussy baby and snuggle. Our “nurse’s notes” weren’t entirely accurate about this ruse.

Those babies are slouching toward middle age now. But I’m still a night person, still making notes from the night shift.

The Doe

The doe’s silhouette was clear in the snowlight. She was lying in a drift, curled under a tree, huge mulie ears pricked. The deer was on the hillside southeast of the house, 100 feet away or so from my window.mule deer, doe, ears

Mule deer in my nature preserve are common. They wander through many western cities, just as their cousins, whitetail deer overrun cities back East.

The does add a grace note to urban winter landscapes. They travel a well-worn route on my hillside, where they’ve carved a path. Several six- and eight-point bucks also saunter through as it suits them.

Many of us are ambivalent about deer in the neighborhood. Come summer, the deer transform into efficient harvesting machines, pruning shrubs to nubs and expertly nipping every flower from prized daylilies.

Summer seemed a long way off, though, as I watched the doe, a few snowflakes sifting down around her.

The Hunter

Children first learn to find the constellations Orion, the Hunter, and the Big Dipper. Both are bright, with clear patterns and visible even in light-washed city skies. The Big Dipper, part of Ursa Major, the Bear, is high in the northern sky. It’s easily seen year-round in the northern hemisphere.

Orion, however, hunts only in winter north of the equator. During the summer, he rises in daylight at our latitudes. Orion is compensation for January’s frigid winds; it’s the best month to view the constellation, in the zenith of the winter sky. The three brilliant stars of his belt, lined in a row, make Orion simple to spot.

chris kapsa painting
Night Shift ©Chris Kapsa

Mythology surrounding the Hunter traces a line back millennia through ancient Rome, Greece, Babylon and China. Perhaps Orion delighted children 2000 years ago as it captivated me as a child.

The resting deer had nothing to fear from the Hunter above as he followed his path across the heavens. Smiling to myself, I jotted notes from the night shift, closed the bedroom shutters and turned off the light.

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