The howling began at 8 p.m. sharp, like every night. But Tuesday was different.
“This is the night to howl,” a man said as he hoofed it up 11th Avenue toward Cheesman Park.
An enormous full moon rose over the horizon as dusk set in.
In this fourth week of mandated social distancing and work-from-home — for those who can — it seemed like the park and streets became places to find peace and normalcy. But it felt extra normal, almost supernatural in the darkness.
Like the woods in “A Midsummer Night’s Dream,” the Cheesman neighborhood seemed to drift into the fairy realm.
Eleventh Avenue, now mostly free of cars, was full of people wheeling and walking together. A woman cruised by on roller blades, strumming a ukulele as she wove massive arcs across the asphalt. A woman played piano by a nearby window, singing John Denver lyrics that drifted over the trees.
Then the wolf cries began, reverberating like the low hum of a human machine. It seemed the entire city was greeting the moon. As the cries quieted, someone in the park blasted “We Are the World” from a car. Cheers erupted from the darkness when it ended. People who had melted into the shadows revealed themselves with their applause.
On the north side, Heather Farley spun a glowing hula hoop around her hips. She was visible across the park, a fluttering firefly in the distance. In the grass, a group stared at the stars, pointing out Venus’ bright glint; that was Venus, right? Cyclists and scooters flitted around the perimeter. One woman biking past asked another about double-dating; no, she’d never been on one.
Under the colonnade, Becca Doyle spun inside an enormous hoop as Travis Dunning wheeled back and forth on his skateboard.
“This is the best flat ground in the whole city,” he said. “Usually it’s a bust.”
Dunning would skate here every day if the cops didn’t chase him away. Lately, though, the authorities seem to have bigger problems to deal with. The status quo has shifted, at least for now.
He said the park felt more alive than usual, too. There were more people, he reckoned, “and everyone seems to be in a pretty good mood.”
There was a certain magic in the neighborhood Tuesday night. Maybe it was the howling, a collective oxytocin release that lifted everyone at once. Or was it 11th Avenue, which had materialized to a wide-open space practically overnight?
Perhaps it was something darker, an expression of joy in a difficult moment. Maybe it was the moon, or maybe the convergence of everything, shifting Cheesman Park briefly into another reality.