Praise of Darkness

Until my recent move to Greenfield, I lived in the woods of New Hampshire on an off-grid solar property at the end of a dirt road. It ma...



Until my recent move to Greenfield, I lived in the woods of New Hampshire on an off-grid solar property at the end of a dirt road. It made me appreciate a lot of things, and the coming of the dark and cold time of the year was one of them.

One recent night it was still below zero. The weather has been cloudy for days and it is the dark time of the year. The low amperage of our off-grid solar system begged either for a generator rumble or an energy fast, so for the first time, we chose to fast. We turned off computers and electric lights, and lit candles in the kitchen and on the table at dinner time. As we ate, everything seemed to soften into its true form and mystery in the golden light.

The details have faded, the edges have melted, the shadows have deepened. Our faces took on a new beauty in the glow and even healthy, simple food tasted better. It was cozy magic, as if one was gently standing in the natural cycle of the long winter night.

After dinner my partner and I brought a candle over to the kitchen counter to do the dishes, then carried our travel light into the living room and snuggled up together on the sofa.

“Let’s read to each other,” I suggested, as we decided how to occupy our evening, and we did, holding the book in the soft light and resisting the impulse of sliding on the LED brightness. practicality of our battery-powered headlamps.

It was like stepping back in slow time as the rhythm and distractions of our solar electric life faded away. We don’t have television, but even the evening’s obligation to check the plethora of emails that come in every day, follow alternative news sites, or watch a DVD is gone. I put logs in the stove while my partner yawned and taking a candle with him, went up to the attic to go to bed early, which he usually never does.

Not ready to sleep, I pulled the seesaw by the woodstove and sat down to watch the changing orange flames – caught in the centuries-old human fascination in a trance for the fire. Even with our sparse electric lives here on this New Hampshire property, the short chance to live beyond electricity had proven to be surprisingly calming, brightening, and natural.

As I swayed with the darkness gathered around me, I felt a glorious sense of freedom and a deep connection to the long view of human history. Over the past hundred years – barely two or three generations along a chain of 10,000 – we have been drawn deeper and deeper into the power grid until we now saw its convenience as an absolute necessity. . The point is, my own mother, born in 1912, grew up without her on a rural North Carolina farm. In his childhood stories, I never felt a sense of deprivation.

But when the network goes down today, panic ensues. It’s the news on the front page. People are jostling each other wondering how to keep warm and how to cool or cook food, and what about water?

Most survive on a temporary electrical transfusion from a gas generator or if the lack of electricity persists, they give up and head for shelter. Few people sit still and view the forced return to more natural cycles of human experience as positive and even magical.

Light and dark. It has been so on our revolving earth forever. I remember being afraid of the dark when I was a kid. Like most children, I invented monsters that lived under the bed. But maybe that first face-to-face relationship with darkness was a healthy thing. In their room today, my grandsons have a night light, plastic stars that glow on the wall, and a magical turtle that stays on all night, casting its watery green reflections on the ceiling. When I walked hand in hand with them through the nocturnal woods that surround our house, they stood back wide-eyed and frightened. Their relationship with the dark will need to be repaired.

This may be true for most of us. We often think of darkness, whether it is the darkness of the moon or the gloomy winter of the year, as a negative, a time of contraction, of secrets, of the unknown, of the irrational, of death. And yet it also contains within itself the mystery of regeneration and rebirth, inspiration, visions and insight. This is the time when the veils between the worlds are thinning. The creative matrix of darkness is as necessary for the complete cycle of life as light.

Electricity has helped us erase the darkness and forget its gifts. Everywhere we go we see the lights of a commercial culture in the Festival of Lights. The use of electricity, wonderful as it may be, forces us into a state of separation whether we choose to know it or not.

We live at the end of a sparsely populated dirt road to a half mile driveway. It’s solar or nothing for us, but I will say my partner lived with a few gas lights and a hand well pump for years before I came along and demanded a few basic amenities.

I sometimes wonder if it would be healthy for the world to start to feel the disconnection of electric lights little by little? A bit like Mondays without meat. Shut down the computer. Go to bed early. Candle light dinner. Use the microwave and the widescreen less.

I swayed yawn, the fire of the night settling down to burn for hours.

Before going to bed, I walked through the dark living room and stood by the window. When the lights are on, the windows reflect only our own reflections. It’s a sort of encirclement. With the lights off, I was able to see the wide world beyond the house – see the blue lace of shadows on the snow as the half moon rose among the trees and the stars twinkled on the bare branches. Heard how the low rush of windy winter silence compares to the boisterous summer evenings filled with the call of loons on Goose Pond, the chirping of crickets and the chatter of barred owls. I found out while snowshoeing the other day.

Go in the dark, a choice that no longer seems radical, but rational. And who can say that respect and praise for the fertile mystery of darkness is not a good thing

Patricia Greene is a writer and activist who recently gave up country life to live in the town at Weldon in Greenfield. It is an experience, not without benefits, but the darkness is not one of them.



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