This morning, I woke up around 3:00. I wasn’t sad about it; it felt like I could have gotten up for the day, though in the end, I fell back asleep for a couple of hours.
Before I did, though, I listened to the sounds of my town for a few minutes. All I could hear was the ocean, a few blocks away, churning away with a reliability that is so comforting to me; nature doesn’t care if human eyes witness its habits.
As I listened, I thought back to Baltimore. It was consistently quiet for just a brief period each night, early in the pitch-black morning but well after the bars had closed. In contrast to where I now live, that type of silence was unusual in Baltimore, which filled with the sounds of people walking by and cars zooming past, stereos or sirens blaring.
I witnessed those quiet moments after waking because of a restless sleep, yet I came to look forward to those middle-of-the-night breaks, when I unexpectedly had a glimpse of the sleepy side of my city.
This weekend here is louder than normal, though it still doesn’t approach the bustle of Baltimore. Holiday weekends are filled with tourists, who make it hard to go out for breakfast because of their crowds, and who brave the cold waters of our ocean for the sheer sake of having touched it. The bolder ones, and the children, submerge themselves, bare skin covered in goosebumps, squealing when they emerge. The ones who have visited before know to bring wetsuits.
Of course, it’s absolutely possible to still find quiet. As in Baltimore, there are places people never go. There, I wandered through the dense green trees of Druid Hill Park in the summer, or through those same trees, bared, in the winter.
Here, I stroll my neighborhood streets, and try to get out early; tourists seem to universally prefer sleeping in to getting up for our westward-facing coast, so inhospitable as it is to sunrises.
Yet because the tourists are still curled in their hotel beds, in varying degrees of comfort, I am alone. I don’t have anyone to greet; there are no cars to dodge.
It is easier to pay attention, when I am alone.
I notice, for instance, that certain corners of my town smell sweet, like roses and jasmine. In other spots, it’s only salt that I can detect, riding the ocean breeze. The houses are colorful and sometimes strange, and businesses are adorned with charming, jaunty little signs.
As I walk, I take in details around me, those that are beautiful – blooming flowers, light that illuminates a certain angle just so – and those that are troubling – broken toys in a crowded yard, abandoned shoes on a sidewalk. I fantasize about the houses I’d buy if I had the money, and identify the streets that I’d be less inclined to choose.
By the time I turn towards my own house, the streets are filling with other bodies, other people, looking for something, though I don’t know what. Maybe, like me, they aren’t looking for anything specific. Maybe, like me, they’re just out to witness how a part of the world works, seeing where they might fit in, curious if they could belong among these usually-quiet streets.
Whatever their reasons for coming, whatever my reasons for walking, it doesn’t really matter. In this always-small town, the magnificent Pacific Ocean continues to churn away, steady and reliable, in the ever-so-close distance.