Even under the best of circumstances four-thirty is early. And with a dog whose belly has been disagreeable and cantankerous, whose belly has demanded several trips down the stairs, first at eleven and then again at one-thirty, across the parking lot to the patch of soft grass its proprietor prefers, four-thirty is a truly horrific time to find yourself any place other than under a set of nice soft sheets and blankets with two new pillows smooshed under your head, a couple of warm cats curled around you and the one you love snuggled up beside you, the sweet sound of their breathing like a lullaby.
It is not often Duncan wakes me in the middle of the night, and when he does it is under the most dire of circumstances. The second he sidles up to my side of the bed and pushes his cold nose against my forehead, a plaintive and nearly silent whine in his throat, it's almost too late. There is no time to think or delay. He has been kind and gracious in not wanting to rouse me from my slumber to deal with his petty troubles and grievances, but as all dogs know, even the good ones, there is a time when consideration gets tossed out the window and a state of emergency must be declared.
And so it has been the last two nights. Duncan, with his pleading and apologetic eyes and sensitive belly, has whimpered into my pillow and urged me from bed and out the door. And I have followed, grumbling and discontent, knowing I won't be able to find that same cozy spot among the pillows and comforters, cats and Ken, that I will be up, worrying with him, laying with him on the couch, rubbing his belly and playing with the wisps of hair that grow so unruly from his ears while he snores and folds himself back into his dreams. It is my least favorite part of being the human with whom his care has been entrusted (second only to the same chore but under the frigid and unforgiving January stars), but I love him so I do not hesitate and never frown at him even though my only reward is the relief on his face as he climbs the stairs, his tail wagging softly, sleepily, the warm nudge of thanks he gives me once we find ourselves back on our side of the door.
But last night, tired and wanting to have a word or two with this digestive tract of his, I was treated to the most incredible sight, a four-thirty sky so vast it pulled the breath from my chest and sat me down on the edge of the curb, my knees too weak to support me while I gazed up at it. It was a dark sky, the same as all the other dark skies, but it was clean and clear, its color deep and concentrated, the same but somehow more than any other sky I have seen. The stars had spread out across it, around the moon and beyond, as though savoring all that space and my eyes seemed to look further than they have ever looked before, both in space and time. It was an Idaho sky, a clear mountain sky, a sky that belonged to the most remote regions of the earth, and it seemed it was all mine. And so while Duncan tended to matters more pressing, I stared up and out and did not breathe, afraid that the sound of air moving from my lungs out into the world would disrupt the tranquility above me.
Four-thirty is an hour no one wishes to see, but every now and then we should all give ourselves the gift of its immensity and divinity.