Stepping out from the warmth of our neighbor’s house after Thanksgiving dinner this evening, it wasn’t the night chill that struck me. It was the darkness.
As we drove across the highway, our headlights were the only light anywhere. The phrase “profound darkness” came to mind.
So much of what we love here has to do with light: the sunrises, the sunsets, the brilliant sunshine in a vast bright blue sky, the rainbows. What could be profound about darkness?
Darkness falls very early this time of year, near the winter solstice, but it carries more meaning here than it did in New York, the city that never sleeps.
On a moonless evening, I looked at the clock after dinner and was startled to find it was only 7 PM. The house was surrounded by complete darkness. It felt like we should already be asleep. What’s the sense of staying up? It’s dark.
I opened the back door, stepped out onto the frosty deck, and listened. Nothing. No sirens, no passing cars, not even any animal noises. To match the darkness, an equally profound silence.
It was never truly dark or quiet in the cities where I have always lived. Even the sight of a street lamp carried the comforting implication that others would be passing by before long.
At night here, I discover what it means to be really alone. Not lonely. Just alone.
When there is no moon here, because there are almost no lights below, the brilliance of the stars is also profound, but in another way. It instills a different sense of solitude. The longer you look, the more you see.
The sight makes me ponder how very small and insignificant I am, of course. It also makes me think about the promise to Abraham, that his children would be numbered like the stars, and I understand as never before how impossible this must have seemed.
Someone here commented recently that many people in the world never see a night sky filled with stars. “It’s true,” I replied. “In Brooklyn, we used to see about three stars at night.” That’s not an understatement. If you kept looking, you might eventually spy five, or maybe even twelve.
When my daughter turned 18, she chose to spend her birthday money in Manhattan getting a tattoo. This was legal at 18, and she knew that we would no longer forbid it.
“Don’t you want to see my tattoo?” she asked a few days later. She had had a small star burned into her shoulder.
“That’s very tasteful,” I said. “But why did you choose a star?”
“Don’t you know that stars are very important to me?” she said.
“No. Why are stars so important to you?”
“Because I remember lying in a sleeping bag staring up at them,” she said. I was so glad that our city child had wanted, at her perceived coming of age, to honor the memory of an earlier time out here, when the same darkness might have moved her to think some deep thoughts.
Like her, I grew up in a city. Back then, I thought that Milky Way was a candy bar. Sure, I learned about it, like I learned about photosynthesis and trigonometry.
Now, on any night when the moon isn’t full, I can walk into the driveway, look up, and see it spilling across the sky, a wide ribbon of luminosity.
There’s our whole galaxy, on edge. My ever-busy mind stops spinning for a moment, and I feel wonderfully empty.
© Lois Wingerson, 2016
(There are some great videos of the night sky in this valley. But they don’t really tell the whole story. You have to come here to appreciate it.)
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