In Deference to the Dark
Updated: Apr 2
To step out into the night is to lose sense of self and become acutely aware of what else there is. We transcend our petty fearful selves and become huge. Huge as the night sky and as minuscule as the sound of a twig bend in the abyss around us.
I was inspired to write this in France; by the dark of my Father's garden and the stars of the northern hemisphere.
Since my arrival there's talk of monsters in the basement. My room is adjacent to dim storage full of logs, axes, chainsaws and tools of all manner and function that a marauding murderer could utilize at his convenience. My brave sister accompanied me down to check I'm not in imminent danger each night. Except last night.
I insisted I could cope alone against the perils.
I came down the narrow staircase and noticed that we'd forgotten to close the shutters of the double doors that open out into the ominous, peering darkness. I feared that turning the light on would make me more apparent to what was out there. Maybe I should forget about the shutters at this lonely hour.
But, I thought, my every experience of dark nights in the country has been very pleasant so far and the fear of frightful fiends always unfounded.
So I opened the doors, double wide and reached out on each side for the stutters to pull them in.
Then I saw it. Huge, looming and swallowing me up.
It was so enrapturing that any remnant of apprehension was sucked out of me.
The sky. Black as infinity and star lit with our oldest friends, Orion smiled down on me, never a belt, always the alignment of three dots of female orifice (as inspired by the higher intelligence of an observant child), the zigzag, the bull heart and a plump planet*. I stepped out and used my hands to shield the pale shutters from my peripheral vision so I could fully be in the dark outside.
I listened for creatures, maybe a bat flutter, a hedgehog, or a cat creeping by. But I heard nothing. Just a deep penetrating silence and the black pinprick animated sky absorbing me into infinity in space and time.
As a young teenager I had taken to sneaking out of my home at night in rural England. We lived in a remote and special place. We'd have called it sacred if we were so inclined. While I walked in the dark, occasionally the breath of a sleeping horse or cow would startle me, but once my eyes adapted I could see their shapes and I could feel my expectations of the night met my reality; owl hoots and bats swooped, but nothing that scared me. Nothing in the dark was bad. Nature had nothing left that could be a danger to me, not a wolf or a bear or even a boar, the likes of which we had eradicated from these soils centuries ago. I can only wonder and yearn for their presence and the balance of respect and knowing.
Instead the real predator would come. On quiet nights I'd hear it first. The sound of an approaching car. Or sometimes I'd see the lights glint through the hedgerows and the trees from across the fields. I hid before the lights swung around paralysing me like a rabbit in the road. There weren't many big trees but there was one that I loved and could duck behind or I'd rely on getting low into the ground at a distance enough to be missed. There was no danger in the tufts of turf, or in the wide awake or snoozing animals. There was shelter in the tree and the bushes and I'd propel myself into the shadow of my protector until the vehicle passed. I was never spotted, no vehicle ever even slowed, but my heart would race and I'd be awash with relief on my escape, an escape from the scary monster of a human and machine. Whoever it was.
I first walked with my moonlit shadow on those nights. The moon has always been a mixed blessing, bathing the world in a blue lit hue yet obliterating the stars. Light brings out the shadows yet in darkness we merge with them and we can't define ourselves as separate. When we embrace the night our sense of self is no longer limited to the sight of our own boundary. When we fear the dark the presence of any otherlings close up presses on our chest, sounds screech in our ears and our eyes are useless, but we can over come this by breathing in the dark with calm deep breaths like that of the sleeping bovine of my childhood. We can let these breaths and our calm fill us with light, we can be illuminated with the night wisdom from the inside.
Our fears become the shadows become the dark become the breath and we are the night. We too are exhaled in a steamy sigh or fluttered by on the swoop of wing of owl, bat or moth, darting through the grasses with the vole, fox and the weasel... So present... So alive. Connected.
To step out into the night is to lose sense of self and become acutely aware of what else there is. We transcend our petty fearful selves and become huge. Huge as the night sky and as minuscule as the sound of a twig bend in the abyss around us. Our senses both expanded and contacted to discern all. Dark is more than a lack of light, it is not a lack but a cacophony of experience that the light dims out. It is a physical state that permeates us and elevates us to the sense-ability of a night creature.
I stepped further out in my slippers.
But I heard nothing.
No creatures. No cars.
I turned to the sky and those pin picks of astral familiarity and I urged my heart upwards for us to meet half way.
The vastness of infinity requires a grounding ritual, conscious engagement is the gravity to stop me spinning into oblivion. I have a habit of communication with the universe, whether it be bug, tree, ocean or the galaxy.
So I expressed my deep gratitude, I held it lingering there with deep earnest appreciation, I let some of my daily thoughts bounce back off of the wisdom of the night sky and I absorbed those thoughts back with the benefit of star dust and bat wing. Lastly I made my wish, loud and clear in the silence of my mind and I swore my allegiance and solidarity. Heartfelt wishes resonate in a universe where our atoms are an echo and we are kin with even the stars.
If we were to transpose that wish from that language of star talk we could say that I wished for the dark. For the deepest dark to illuminate the way for us all. For the health and balance that this dark brings.
And with that I said good night to my old friends.
* Zigzag constellation otherwise known as Cassiopeia. Bulls heart is the triangle part of the constellation of Taurus of which Aldebaran is the bright identifiable star. And apparently the planet that I saw was either planet Uranus or the bright orange star Menkar.
Top photo by James Wheeler from Pexels
Constellations screen shot from the Star Walk 2 app on mobile phone.