For the past year and a half, I have been creeping around in my car in the early hours of the morning, pondering deep thoughts, observing the late night culture of my city, watching the urban wildlife seek refuge from my high beam headlights, and delivering newspapers to the few people who still subscribe.
The haunting melody of “Keep the Streets Empty” by Fever Ray weaves its way through my mind as I endeavor to complete this nightly job – a menial task perhaps, but one that puts me in an interesting place of contemplation.
Memory comes when memory’s old
My mind often wanders to memories of lost loves, long gone career paths, and all those hopes and dreams that never quite materialized. I ponder about how I got here, and where will I go next?
The answers are few, but the questions are many.
At 2-3 AM, there are a surprising number of people walking in the streets of Canton, OH. I do not know why. They do not seem to be causing trouble. Just walking from one place to another with seemingly aimless determination. The weather does not matter. They are walking in snow, rain, thunderstorms and fog.
Canton is not a city where there is an accepted reason to be out late at night, unless you are making early morning deliveries like me or driving a garbage truck. There is trouble on the streets, but not from these silent wanderers. They are likely victims, not perpetrators. The people I see walking in the night seem to have little to claim in life beyond the clothes on their backs and the cell phones in their hands.
What is their purpose? Are they afraid? Are they so hardened by experience that fear no longer matters? Are they oblivious to the dangers present in the night? Has our world served them well? Do they ponder deep questions like I do?
Do they whisper in their minds, “Morning keep the streets empty for me,” hoping that no harm will come to them as they forge ahead along their paths?
Karin Dreijer Andersson who wrote the lyrics for “Keep the Streets Empty” has remarked about her mesmerizing song, “It’s supposed to be a deer singing,” which makes some sense to me. Imagining the perspective of a deer is something that I often ponder in my wee hour journeys. There are many deer stalking the streets at night, and empty streets are a blessing for them. I interrupt their communal forays into the night as I follow my own path. They watch me with wary eyes, sometimes scattering as I come upon them in the dark.
There is a peacefulness in my observation of the wildlife scurrying around as I sojourn through the early morning. There is unrest in my thoughts, though. The overpopulation of humans in the natural habitat of these creatures means many will not survive.
My artist sensibilities compel me to creatively record my journeys in some way, yet I am frustrated with the unsettledness of everything around me. I seek resolution and balance and hope in my art. I am lost as I seek a thread of that in this.
Everything seems wrong to me in our world of late.
We encroach upon the habitats of other creatures, then complain that they are pests to our privileged way of life. We run ram-shod across the earth and cause irreparable harm to the environment, threatening numerous species of animal and plant life, as well as we threaten our own species’ existence.
Society has organized around principles that grant great wealth to a few, moderate wealth to some, but far too little wealth to many. We mock and disdain the people who cannot seem to amass wealth, all the while laying out the conditions that limit their opportunities to do so.
And then we wonder why they wander the streets in the early hours.
How do I find balance and resolution in that?
Karin Dreijer Andersson also claims that her song is a duet. Is the deer singing to another deer or is the interaction between the deer and humanity?
Perhaps the song, and my own musings about life in the early morning are allegorical. Animals and humans all seek safe passage, regardless of the complicated paths that we take. We interact in such a way that, as we pursue our own survival, we consider that for others as well, or do we?
So many questions.
I have no creative work yet to capture the depth of my musings. The urban wildlife whom I have encountered as I travel along my morning paper route, however, have captured my artistic attention. The deer you see above is the first in my Urban Wildlife Series. I will share more paintings of these fascinating creatures in subsequent posts.
Who knows where it will all lead?
I will be leaving the streets empty myself soon. I am ending my time as a newspaper carrier in a few days, so I will no longer be on this particular journey. The memory of the silent nightlife – the people and the creatures of the night, however, will remain with me.
I will never disappear
For forever, I’ll be here
View the entire Urban Wildlife Series in an exhibit at the Johnson Center at Malone University from October 28 – December 7, 2019.
Life is an Adventure!