Posted by: dougery | October 7, 2010

Made In the Dark

When you’re a child, darkness is one of life’s scariest assurances. At some point during the day the sun will go down and the lights will go out. Just the way it is. Children become afraid because they still believe that there are all kinds of magical and fantastic things lurking out of sight in broad daylight, unicorns or marshmallow cereal wielding leprechauns, to say nothing of what might be found in the dead of night. Yet the things in the dark are spookier seeing as it is clear they don’t want to be found. They are hiding. Most likely because they have done something unspeakably evil and are either ashamed of themselves or plotting further unspeakable deeds. Either way if you did see them it would be too late for you and your stuffed animal turtle, Mr. Turtle.

Darkness morphs from a frightening pall into a land of intrigue and illicit behavior at some point around adolescence. Adults and teenagers are drinking! Those monsters you thought were lurking in the dark aren’t monsters at all, unless, well yeah, I suppose teenagers are monsters. Hormone-riddled, pock-marked, oozing oils and growing fur, sprouting up taller over night, gangly and lumbering-you won’t find any worse creatures in Hans Christian Andersen or the Brothers Grimm. And they, too, are hiding from the light, from their parents, other adults, other teens, the shining face of God (he knows you’re not reading that Maxim magazine you stole from your older brother because of the music reviews).

However for most people there is no such thing as Darkness, not after you hit your twenties. Chances are you are in college or living in or near a big city. I remember the winters in Syracuse when the light pollution was so bad that an orange haze would settle upon the entire city making it almost as bright as day during the middle of the night. And you thought their mascot name came from… well, you probably never troubled yourself with that. Cities and universities and towns have so much going on in the evening that we forget what true darkness is. In Chicago there might actually be more to do after the sun sets than before provided you aren’t downtown or in the suburbs.

Lara and I have gotten a crash course in true darkness having moved far far (far) from the cities into a ‘town’ of no more than 240 people. Where the main road, a highway (route 7) does not even have street lamps. Down a driveway that by my father-in-law’s speedometer is half a mile long, again, lampless. To a house that nobody has lived in for 5 years, where the nearest apartments in a retrofitted barn are blocked by thick fir trees and nearest house is behind a mountain. The point being when the sun sets out here the light just goes. Darkness warshes over a dude and it is total. Complete. When we first moved in you could stand in our dining room and hold your hand in front of your face and not see it. Freaky dark. Unnerving dark. You best go and purchase some nightlights dark.

Which is what we did when we ventured out to our local Target-Mart. They even make ‘smart’ nightlights that turn themselves on when the light quality gets too dim (Science, you’ve done it again!). The only problem being that these particular nightlights, environmentally friendly as they are and manufactured to last longer than your dishwasher or automobile cast a kind of sulfurous orange light. We put one on each floor of our farmhouse and now when you stumble out of bed in the middle of the night to take a leak or raid the fridge you’ll pass by the living room where it appears something has climbed out of a hell mouth to watch some tv. I’ll peek in sure to see some ram-horned demon with a pitchfork reading one of Lara’s 4 different versions of Ulysses before it gets too frustrated because no one told it to use the Bloomsday book as a reference and it storms back down to Tartarus. It didn’t even get to the good parts.

Of course, it works both ways. When the moon is full and your eyes adjust the surrounding forest is lit up for anyone to see. You can watch the bears at their poker game, the owls doing whatever owls do (stand-up comedy?) and the porcupines blundering about in search of love, aw. Lately it’s been raining every day and with it comes impenetrable cloudcover. So moon or no moon (perhaps some scatological new reality-show for MTV?) it’s perfect dark out here. Lord help us if we forget something in the Jeep or need to borrow sugar from the neighbors. I wouldn’t even know which direction to walk in, even if I did know where the barn was in relation to the Blair Witch scuffling about the river bed or the hockey-masked weirdo with the machete in the pines or the, what is that, do I hear a chainsaw?

Excuse me I think I have to go tell him to turn it down.

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Responses

  1. First, that photo is incredible. Is that the entrance to your Hill People encampment?

    Second, right on. I remember being freaked out my first night in Chicago when I looked out the window and the sky was orange. And I was equally freaked out years later when we went camping on an uninhabited island in northern Wisconsin (Rock Island), and I stepped out of the tent to take a leak and was able to see clearly thanks to the starlight. Not sunlight, not even moonlight, starlight. It was amazing and deeply humbling. I felt like such a waste of an earthling having lived on this planet for 29 years and not even knowing what a real night sky looks like.

  2. and here i’ always found comforted in that orangeness because the skies of my childhood always seemed way too dark. who knew it was the hellmouth.

    excellent post on the loop by the way, sensei. i’m always stunned that the walgreens on lake doesn’t even open on sundays.

  3. […] at his blog, my friend Doug, a hill person of some renown, has written a great mediation on darkness. You see, Doug and his wife Lara recently moved from the big city of Chicago to a small […]

  4. You know, Doug, that when I type in douglaseriggs.com, I always think “DOUG LASER IGGS.”

    Doug Laser. Laser Iggs.

  5. Excellent post. I find the dichotomy of deep dark night and light pollution intriguing and instructive because of all the emotions and ideas that get linked to each. Certainly there is something menacing and perhaps unnatural about the odd glows from large cities, but that light signals more than an attempt to dominate nature (and condition/control and industrial labor force); it also tells you that if you look hard enough there’s a really kick ass band playing somewhere out in that light. Conversely, the dark nights full of stars give us a feeling of awe at our place in the universe and a return/connection to nature and wonder, but they also suggest that you probably can’t get passable Thai food for at least eighty miles.


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