Saturday, March 27, 2010


Tomorrow night is No Electric Light Night for those of us in on it in these parts, when we will use only candles and lanterns and show ourselves and the kids what darkness is and means, how much a part of life it is and true, and how familiar it can be and not to fear, so much has been forgotten of where we were and whence we came and how--

Already it recalls to me one moonless night while we were living on an island off the coast of Spain, out on a point with the ocean at our front, with no electricity, not long after we'd moved there - with only one candle to cook by and eat by - there was a knock from the dark at the dark door, it was an elderly man without light who had come round the point from the sea and had walked the long dark path up to our candle to ask the way to the village over the mountain, and would go hence into the night and over the mountain without light and how would he see, I city-wondered.

Before long we too were walking over the mountain along stony paths even on moonless nights, seeing fine by the light of the stars and the ancient light-finding strength that had been in our eyes all along unasked for, and so never received until now. More than ever, we need to learn what darkness has to teach us that we do not know we already know, from long before our own lives. We should share this knowledge with our children, that the world may be the simpler place it is, both day and night--


Darkness, as one might expect, is a lot darker out in the country; it's pretty much actual darkness out here where we are, except for a small light out on the island and a few sprinkled far across the Lake that go out one by one as night deepens.

Until a hundred years ago, city and country everywhere were pretty much the same at night; now the city has a 24-hour day. But though we all know this, even out in the country what has been lost to us with the loss of the dark tends to slip the mind when one has recourse to brightness at a switchflip. Easy light has made us lazier than we know, has let us drift from attentions we were born to give to the darkling edges of our lives, it has taken us farther from the forebears in our eyes and from 99.9% of our evolutionary history. Living in familiarity with darkness is in fact fully natural to us.

So it was like seeing an old friend last night when we came home to a dark house, went inside in the dark, lit some candles, a small kerosene lamp, and proceeded to prepare and eat dinner. Kaya was quiet, more thoughtful and studious of distances than her usual brightlight boistery night self. She was intrigued, instinctively contented with this new face of things, the space closing around her like a soft blanket. The food was different, the faces were different, the rooms and the house were different. We talked about darkness and history; we talked about how you don't have to be afraid in the dark, because in fact you can see in the dark: see?

We talked about how humanity had until just a few decades ago always been familiar with the dark and lived in close adherence to the cycle of dark and day, and how loss of the night must have deeply affected us humans, who have evolved through eons in bond with the natural cycle of dark and day; how light has changed us, how dark has changed us, and how the loss of one-half of that equation must have unbalanced us in ways we do not know.

We noted how things had a new beauty when shaded by the night, acquiring depths that light cannot contain, that only its absence can provide, and how without electricity conversation gained importance and intimacy. For her part, Kaya watched the candleflames flicker and smiled with an ancient, familiar delight.

Darkness was good.
(From two PLM posts of June 2003)


Chrissy said...

I remember when we had the 1994 earthquake.. I am sure u read about it... Being shook out of bed at 4 am.. Would u believe darkness brought neighbors together? people we normally see go about their routine daily were now talking to each other, relying on each other's talents- electrician, plumber, fireman- all neighbors pulling together. Darkness does create intimacy and also opens us up to each other, so does darkness bring fear? or does it just bring our guard down to open ourselves to each other?

Anonymous said...

We camped a lot when the children were young. Our house in the city was surrounded by major streetlights, so there was never dark. Camping, we discouraged flashlights, and took them on walks in the dark.

Clark Strand had an article on darkness in the latest Tricycle:

AdelaideBen said...

The picture you paint is one that brings back memories of camping out in the countryside. Counting the stars overhead...

It's nice to keep a memory of those countless pin-points of light in our heart when looking at the millions of tungsten and neon lights that surround us in our normal everyday lives.

R. Brady said...

The stars are our true perspective.