Saturday, March 6, 2010

Turn On The Dark

My house is invisible from the road, partially because it’s two thousand feet away from the road, partially because there are trees and my neighbor’s house in between, and at night, because I have no extraneous lighting. If I have to get up in the middle of the night, or more often, the mutts want go out after bedtime, I shuffle to the backdoor in total darkness, save those irritating LDC lights that seem to possess every other electrical kitchen appliance. The microwave has one, the stove has another, the DVD player has one, and all of these created some temporal Cerberus, guarding the hell life becomes when the power goes off. All three let me know the second such an event occurs because they all blink in off rhythm alarm and it is enough to set a epileptic off, if not just plain annoy the hell out of me.

I cannot see in the dark any better than most people but unlike most people, I do not think I have to see to navigate in places I know. I go to the office to fill out my paperwork at night and walk through a darkened building. Of course, no building inside any city limits can be truly dark. Street lights, security lights, lights on screen savers, and a dozen different ways to waste electricity glare at me as I head towards my desk. I worked nightshift a few months ago and the person on the project with me was terrified of the dark. She would come into the office and cut on every light in the place. I told her she reminded me of my little sister who at 45, still sleeps with the light on at night. My co-worker, who is just older than I, informed me she still sleeps with the light on at night too.

We Americans have a serious addiction to light. I remember a time when a house was lit up it meant someone was up and awake. Now as I travel the roads very early in the morning each house seems to have a security light, a porch light, and some other source of illumination doing nothing but confusing the moths. Turn out all those lights and you’ll have security incarnate, especially in the country. A friend of mine has an intricate timer that randomly turns on lights in her house so people will think someone is home and moving around the house. I say kill the lights and let those two one hundred pound dogs do the talking. Fewer lights, more dogs, and suddenly it’s not only more secure, but warmer at night too!

Given we’re running on empty as far as the economy is concerned, why not just shut off the lights at night? Let’s say at midnight, next Sunday night, we all just turn off all our lights, everywhere, and see what happens. Off course, if it’s dark we will not see, but that’s the point; what is it we have to do when the lights go out? We have to use our others sense, and we have to use our brains. Have you ever stopped to consider how early Americans lived before electricity? You don’t think they wanted around for the sun to come up to go to work do you? Feeding livestock in a barn wouldn’t require any light if you knew where everything was, and why wouldn’t you? I would advise against such activities as nighttime wood chopping, but by and large, the pre World War Two generation got by without so much excess lighting.

The bright, garish, and useless lights we think we need do little more than blind us. They weaken our other sense as we rely wholly on sight. Worse still, they mask a night sky that for thousands of years, has served as all the light we humans ever truly needed after dark. I wonder how many kids in American these days have never seen the Milky Way? I’ve had people come over to my place at night and stand beside their cars, frozen in place. It’s a stunning sight for apartment dwellers and city folk. The night sky puts on a silent and subdued light show that takes the breath away. During a new moon, the stars almost give off enough light to walk in the woods by. Before my bones got stiff, and I didn’t mind the discomfort, I would lay in a sleeping bag at night, and just stare at the stars in the sky, and wonder, really wonder, what was up there amongst all that.

Can a human being lay underneath the Milky Way and not be humbled? There before the very eyes that despair over who got kicked off dancing with the…stars, are billions upon billions of stars, of suns, some greater than our own by an order of magnitude, and each one of them possibly being circled by billions of planets, and on those planets, possibly, star gazers like ourselves. Take someone you love out into the dark, a child or two, a lover, a friend, a dog, and rename the constellations, and invent new ones of your own. There in the dark, accept the limitations of sight, and instead, find your place in blindness, and thrive. Hold your hand up to the night sky, open your fingers, and watch as the stars pass through them, as if you were a god, and you were scattering out the cosmos for the very first moment of creation. Take your forefinger, and your thumb, and make a circle with them, and hold them up to the heavens, and ten take a deep breath as to what is held in that circle. A hundred stars? How many aliens live within that circle of your fingers? How much unexplored space can you hold in one hand? There above you lies the universe itself, and you are here to bear witness to it, to marvel at being a part of it, no matter how small.

If only you would turn off the lights.

Take Care,



  1. Until I was 18, I lived in the country. It was gloriously dark. At 10:30 every night, I could hear the Monday through Friday train go by. It was a very calming and welcome sound. It was about a mile away. After I moved from home, my Daddy installed a standard size street light behind the house. I swear, after that, when I came to visit, I never heard the train again.

    1. There is some truth to that, Melinda. If one of your senses becomes overloaded the others shit down too. That is why you hear better in the dark; when one of your senses is underloaded the others pick up.