Why Van Gogh Loved Painting at Night

It’s midnight, and I just returned from walking my dogs.

I set out on Sycamore Lane, figuring I’d take them on a quick spin around the block before heading off to bed.

I felt the cool, still night air around me as I headed up to Walters Avenue when I looked up at the sky. Was that the Milky Way!? How incredible was it that I could see something so amazing just then? It was like it was planned just for me.

I rounded the corner down Church Street, enjoying the way trees, streetlights and the occasional car played with light and shadow as I walked. The sweet aroma of freshly mown grass hit me as I made my way on the sidewalk. Had I gone with my original plan, I would have turned back on Sycamore Lane and headed right home. But I couldn’t. I caught a glimpse of the night sky and I needed more time to take it all in. I headed down Illinois, an unlit street that led me to the path by the retention pond.

And that’s when things really got colorful.

As we walked, I saw the stars in the black sky and the silhouettes of the even blacker trees. Fireflies, unaware that it was past their bedtime, glittered and flashed all about us. Watching the sky, I gauged the ribbon of light across the sky and compared it to the movement of my constellations: Orion and the Big Dipper. Turns out my Milky Way was a well-placed streak of cloud, but no less wondrous all the same.

I drew in deep breaths, taking in the rich, heavy scent of honeysuckle, the metallic, earthy smell of dug soil, the acrid, organic stench if the creek that runs through town. I could only imagine what my dogs, with their sense of smell hundreds of times better than mine, were thinking.

And the sounds. The padding and click of dog paws in rythmic movement. The chirp of an occasional cricket. The faraway, monotonous hum of too-nearby traffic. The low, gutteral moan of a waterfowl. The late-evening din of a neighborhood party that had spilled outside. The quiet, insistent churning of the creek, swollen with recent rains.

Nighttime, if we allow it to be, is an eruption of sound and sight and sense more colorful and awe-inspiring than the brightest of days.

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