September 23, 2021
I scanned my weather app. A week of nearly perfect September weather lay ahead. I spotted one night that predicted temperatures in the fifties. SOLD!
With an earlier than usual Sukkot holiday, I had decided to renew an old, and long abandoned, family tradition of sleeping one night in our sukkah. When our kids were children, we rarely made it through a full night.
Nonetheless, our two boys enjoyed helping to choose the best night (no rain or snow, temps above freezing); preparing the space with cots and sleeping bags; and dressing with wool hats, mittens, and footed fleece pajamas.
This year, I was going solo. Our kids are long out of the nest, and my husband wisely opted to sleep in a real bed. I was not so much trying to relive my former motherhood as I wanted to embark on a small adventure. After endlessly mindful mask-wearing and social distancing, my middle-aged body craved playfulness.
In addition to the novelty of spending a night in my backyard, I was primed for the next spiritual challenge after the Days of Awe. What I might be able to learn from sleeping in a sukkah by myself? How might one night of replicating the experience of our Israelite ancestors traveling for forty years toward a promised land teach me about my Zoom-dominated, comfortable suburban life?
It took a pit crew to launch me on my plan. My son and his girlfriend lent me a puffy queen-sized air mattress and blew it up for me. My husband lent me his favorite woolen-lined sleeping bag. (I did not discover its broken zipper until I was in too deep to turn back). Years ago, my sister-in-law made wonderful fleece blankets for spectators of Ultimate games, and I piled several on top of the sleeping bag.
Thanks to the Boy Scouts of America, I was outfitted with very warm, fatigue-colored hiking socks. Wearing a hooded sweatshirt and leggings, I tucked myself into the corner of the sukkah, and wrapped myself like a burrito with the unzipped sleeping bag.
Here’s a journal of my brief journey in the wilderness of my patio:
10:00 p.m. Camping out awe: The silence of glittering stars alighting one by one as my eyes grow accustomed to the darkness.
10:12 p.m. Startling wildlife: The restless chipmunk that lives in our garage scurries to bed.
10:32 p.m. Tomorrow’s mail: An airplane engine roars overhead, and the flashing landing lights of the jet flicker through the bamboo roof.
11:17 p.m. Reckless youth: The whine and screech of drag racing on Golden Valley Road.
11:32 p.m. Endless summer: A lone mosquito, the last survivor of the driest summer in years, pays me a short visit.
11:49 p.m. Human chores: The rumbling sounds of my neighbor rolling a garbage bin to the end of his driveway.
12:22 a.m. Ruach, breath: A slight breeze whispers through the canvas sheets of the sukkah.
2:03 a.m. Autumnal equinox: Faint creaking of the leaves on our maple trees as they turn from green to flame orange.
3:18 a.m. Lunar nightlight: The hum of the almost full moon casting shadows on the walls of the sukkah.
3:19 a.m. Bossy wildlife: Our backyard resident, a great horned owl nicknamed Weasley, begins calling, reminding everyone of his territorial boundaries. Whoo-Hoo’hoo-Whoo.
4:00 a.m. All’s quiet: Weasley finishes verbally marking his territory and falls silent. I hope the chipmunk has taken cover.
4:11 a.m. White noise: Highway 100 buzzes with nearly constant commuters.
4:54 a.m. Startling wildlife, part 2: A large mammal, likely a bear judging from the noise, investigates the neighbor’s trash bin and then begins pruning the foliage next door. Or perhaps my neighbor, struggling with insomnia, decides to tackle some landscaping and take the branches to the curb before our dawn recycling pickup.
6:25 a.m. Bird conversations: A cardinal clicks noisily from her nest in the arborvitae, a wren mummers in response. A blue jay caws high in the pine tree.
7:02 a.m. Wake-up call: Husband calls from the back door: “Good morning! How did you sleep?”
Sleep? So-so. The Journey? Awesome.
We are taught that a sukkah symbolizes fragility. Even though I was perched only steps from my kitchen, I sensed my own vulnerability within the sukkah’s canvas walls. I was frequently reminded of being both isolated and embraced by familiar things made unfamiliar by darkness –emotions likely similar to those of our long-ago ancestors wandering in the desert.
Each of us, perhaps, needs to be reminded on a sleepless night that we are held in the eternal sukkah of God’s loving care. And for me, the added gratitude for the modern conveniences of early morning trash pickup and FedEx next-day delivery.
Will I be ready for another backyard sukkah adventure in 2022? I’m marking Oct. 9-16 on my calendar now. It could be a little chilly, but I will invite the whole family to join me on a sukkah sleep-in journey next year.