At night, there should be rest. With the sun going down at a predictable 5:30 p.m., I always try to see it as a time to de-stress from the day and fall into a blissful sleep. But rarely is the night such an inviting period of relaxation for the living. Will our brains shut off once we prepare a bulleted list of reasons why sleeping will let us wake up early tomorrow? Probably not if we pressure our brains into slumber. My specific brain seems to look down on the primal instinct for sleeping, despite being aware of its benefits to the human psyche and body. “Hah, noo! I got today’s experiences to over-analyze and no hours to waste doing nothing.”
Thus, since I cannot sleep, I’d like to share the tale of someone who couldn’t ease into a deep sleep, right in the shadows of the Scott Arboretum/Our forest. I bid you a restful night’s sleep and invite you to read on.
In the chill of the Northeastern season, a reddish-brown chipmunk scrambles across the green forest floor. With the approach of sundown, they must be careful where they tread. One reckless dive into the deep greens, and it’s rumored that those at the bottom of the food chain may never see another sunrise. This chipmunk is certainly careful, stopping to listen for rustling close by and eying their surroundings for movement. After a minute of scouting, they climb a nearby bush full of red berries to glimpse their favorite tree across the stream anchored solidly to the ground. As they get swept up on winds of imagination, their whiskers twitch on a still face before they awkwardly slip from the branch they’re on. Tumbling onto the leafy ground, they pick themselves up. Their ears prick as they hear the sound of the movement of undergrowth shifting in the wind. With the last rays of sunlight illuminating small patches of the bushes behind them, they turn to see if they can’t spot the danger before the blanket of darkness.
“Okay, that was the worst exposition I’ve ever read. You never affectionately refer to me by a name to help identify my superior-shaded stripe down my proud back, for one. Next, I thought I told you my journey to be retold as a sleeping aid, not as a BBC Earth documentary. Actually, wait. Yes, continue. Just seriously, refer to me as Reggie henceforth, won’t you?”
Reggie, a name that I definitely did not carefully concoct on the spot, surveys the greenery around them. There is nothing there. Their head swivels to the left, then a larger turn to the right. Reggie turns around. No threats seem to be had out here; it was likely the cold wind biting into their fur. After a few seconds of shivers, Reggie begins to run again towards their home. They stop at the bank of a pool of icy water, trudging their way through the sediment-filled land.
The stream, a few feet deep but multiple squirrel-lengths apart, flows in one direction towards the other sides of the forest, where there lies a treasure grove of holly trees.
Reggie forcefully inserts here that they mentioned the dreamland of holly past the stream in a calculated sentence because it’s ground zero for the ongoing war against those f**king squirrels, viewing them as wannabe chipmunks who need a massive, flashy tail to look as naturally appealing as chipmunks’ stripes. Apparently, all they do is steal food and take the credit for being the cutest small-size and four-legged mammal in the forest. And no, the canines strutting around, marking the territory with their excess food and drink, do not count.
With the water coursing an inch beneath their front paws, the chipmunk takes a step back and scans the streambank for footholds. A line of wet, but big stones poking out from under the water’s surface or tree fragments would work well to get across. To their right upstream a few meters, there appears to be an irregular zig-zag of stepping stones partially blockading the relentless current. As much as this chipmunk loathes getting wet, Reggie will not settle for any sleeping place less than the sheltered, thick branches of their favorite evergreen tree. They run upstream and recklessly hop on the first stone. Reggie’s back paws with cute little claws scrape against the left end of the stone as they struggle to keep their balance on the rock. Having learned from that scrape with Death, Reggie cautiously hops over to the next stone until the seventh stone. Now, the other bank is a short couple of pawsteps away. Once Reggie has all four of their paws on solid land, they run like they are being chased by Death. Death is the final movement of the sun into the event horizon, as darkness now swallows the forest after Reggie makes it across the stream.
“Narrator, you’re a nightmare. My worst nightmare. Stop emphasizing my physical adaptations to forest life (although I don’t blame you, of course) and focus on the sleep part. We’ve read a page already and in your recount, I’m still not fighting the war of attrition against my brain as I wait for sleep to come. Hurry your tail (haha, tale); the true pains of this story lay in a higher plane.”
In accordance with Reggie’s demands, imagine a red-brown chipmunk with three black stripes down their back dashing towards their evergreen tree, eager to reunite with their most loyal frenemy, sleep. From skidding on leaves that blanket the forest floor to accidentally cruising straight into the bottom of tree trunks, nothing can stop this little fella from resting. Reggie arrives at their tree and scales up its aged brown trunk. Past the lower branches too low to be safe from potential ground foes, there hangs a solid branch of safety. Just beneath the higher branches too exposed to precipitation, that branch is enveloped in the comforting shadow of dark green leaves. It’s just right for Reggie. Settling on a particularly smooth branch, they curl up into a furry ball with the tip of their little tail brushing their nose.
The air is a crisp cold, but the leaves help keep the wind from breaching their fur. Reggie is safe as can be, on a branch in the middle of the two worlds that demand action and observation. Now, with their eyes closing like the waning crescent moon that hovers above in the night sky, Reggie is ready to reach the plane of unconsciousness. However, the internal chaos that haunts them every night begins to trample across the quiet stability of the chipmunk’s relaxed frame. In their head, they think about their troubled relationship with squirrels, wondering if this campaign of utter revulsion is worth their head space. “There was a time when I was young, you know. It was my fault. I left our home in the tree hollow against my mom’s frightened orders. I was the youngest: it caused my brother and sister to worry. They must have left the nest to find me, and when I climbed back to our nest, they were gone. I called out and looked all around, but then I saw shredded pieces of fur below. And the air smelled of tangy iron and lost dreams. Why did I leave? I made my siblings join, which I later discovered in a dark burrow through the sound of a snarl, my mother in a gruesome fate. I know it’s all past me, but I can’t stop feeling…”
Reggie shakes themselves awake out of their stupor, fur pricked up in fear. They take a couple of deep breaths, growing colder but back to the feeling of their senses. They repeat to themselves that they should not overthink while on the way to sleep. That regret has passed; they may remember the guilt and lessons learned that day, but they should not do that while trying to sleep. After another deep breath, Reggie quietly contemplates their current emotional state. Trying to come to peace, for the sake of a well-rested chipmunk ready to gather food to add to the store tomorrow, with their internal imbalance, they settle back down onto the branch. With their eyes closed, they make an effort to relax their muscles and focus on their physical sensations. Breathing in and out. Concentrating on how each body part of them feels, they try to get back on the ship, cruising slowly towards a good sleep. Thoughts bearing the emotional insignia of happy and sad crash into their mind space like an uninvited current change of the stream. Each one is allowed to pass through Reggie’s mind, like the scratches that go from left to right on the rare sandstones they hurt their paws on sometimes. The minerals and tiny fragments on the sandstone are like emotions that can surge upward with their thoughts, but they still move in the same direction. It goes from one obscure end of Reggie’s mind space to the other, slipping out of the other end into the cool night air.
After thirteen long, but peaceful applications of this new approach, Reggie seems to finally be unconscious. Their chest rises up and down seemingly without effort, and when they twitch around, they seem like their body automatically adjusts its parts towards a more comfortable sleeping position. And at long last, tonight’s fight is won. ‘Tis but an indicator of progress to the little chipmunk, who we all know affectionately as Reggie.
REGGIE? HOW DID I DO NARRATING THIS PARTICULAR STORY THAT YOU TOLD ME ABOUT THAT OTHER DAY IN CRUM WOODS AT COORDINATES …”
“Woah, woah, woah, stop! Sheesh, I thought I was the sassy one around here. You did okay, with a narrative as weird as you are. But hey, it wasn’t that bad. I’m annoyed that you kept analyzing the most obvious source of my appeal, but the way you detailed my inner processes was smashing. Terrific, yada yada. Anyway, I hope the readers found this overly dramatic retelling of my daily sleep troubles akin to a tranquil mediation. It’s good if it helps someone fall asleep. Reggie here, officially signing off.”