This morning, after having been away from Keene for most of the summer, I walked Reggie on our usual downtown route before dawn. Any sleeping town has its own resonances and romance. This morning I walked with an orange, nibbled wafer of eclipsing moon hanging low on the horizon over one shoulder, racing. By the time Reggie and I had circled downtown and returned home, the sun was up and the moon was gone.

The Art of Inside

Carrying a camera on a pre-dawn dogwalk is fairly futile: the only thing you can shoot is the glow of downtown shop windows. That being said, shooting shop windows is something of a specialty of mine. Now that students are back and my first classes are set to meet this morning, it seemed somehow appropriate to walk the town when few other folks were awake much less walking. In the pre-dawn, downtown Keene is all mine, shared only with an eclipsing moon and a restless dog who pulls, urgent, too sniff every crevice. For a dog, finding home is an easy, unambiguous thing: home is where you sniff, pee, and sometimes sleep. For a camera-toting place-blogger, I find myself a bit disoriented by this present back-to-school: am I any more at home in a town where I merely work than any of the first-year students who have only this weekend found their feet here?

West Street facade

In Boston this weekend, I overheard some brand-new university students talking amongst themselves on the T. “Does our dorm have washing machines,” one asked; another grunted in the affirmative. “Let’s go find them,” the first suggested with surprising enthusiasm. It felt like forever since I was a first-year student amazed at the prospect of doing my first away-from-home load of laundry, the basement washroom of my first-year dorm offering more social interaction than my bland cell there. How long did it take before the novelty of laundry faded into yet another routine?

When you’re a young student away from home for the first time, the entire world looks new, your mind itself glowing with the fuzzy promise of pre-dawn awareness. When you’ve been around the block for more than a few back-to-schools, it’s easy to think you know the place. You don’t. The lesson of any sleeping town is the sheer novelty of vision: here, the same town I’ve seen countless times by daylight looks different by dawn. Here, the same town I’ve seen countless times by daylight looks different because I myself am different, my own soul moving through its own secret cycle of dawn and eclipse.