Lately I have been absent from cyberspace due to changes in real life that have also given me the gift of walking in the nighttime. Every day, I walk a mile and a half just after dusk on a road that has few streetlights and ambles through wooded areas which, especially when the night sky is clouded, are dark enough that I cannot see my feet or more than a few inches ahead of me.
When I first walked the dark road, I felt as if I were pushing my way through a physical entity made of fear, fog, and uncertainty. I had visions of falling over roots and being left to die in the cold (in reality, the road is traveled by other walkers and someone would come along in ten minutes or so…) or of wild animals leaping out of trees to devour me (there is a fierce and large poodle that sometimes barks from an adjoining yard, but that’s about all I’ve encountered so far).
After a day or two, though, everything changed. I still felt the spirit of the night, but suddenly it was welcoming, inviting me into a world that I had passed by all my life, occasionally glancing off of, but never truly seeing or experiencing.
The world of the night is not human-focused. It belongs to those creatures who can maneuver best in it—the animals with night vision, the creatures who use the blackness as cover from prey, the fireflies whose illumination cannot be seen in the bright sunlight, all those for whom night is their day. I am a guest and one who is inept in their world and at their mercy. In the dark, I see myself as truly part of a web of which I am a part, but certainly not the center. In the dark, I begin to break free of many of the assumptions I have made about my world and my place in it.
Once I realized that I was in a different world than I was used to, I began to look at it through new eyes. The world of the night is one of both the very near and the very far. In the light, I tend to focus on what is about two feet around me. That is where my daily work is and where I can see the best. I only look down or up on my way to looking within this narrow egg of space. In the dark, I can only see a few inches from me, so that is what I focus on. I suddenly become aware of tree limbs and rocks and leaves that are close up and I look at their details, wherein their beauty so often lies. At other times, I look up at the sky and, if the night is clear, I can see the stars in a way I cannot when I am someplace with well-lighted streets. As my spirit is freed, it travels to worlds both too close and too distant for me to have seen before.
When I am in the night’s dark, I truly experience my other senses. I hear the smallest sounds of birds and leaves underfoot and the train a mile away. I smell the smoke from the fireplaces of houses nearby. I reach out and touch the rough bark of the trees to steady myself, but also feel their texture. I realize how over-dependent I am on sight and how that limits my experiences of the world and these sensations are added to my ponderings.
At other times, the night causes my focus to go inward instead of outward, and my own soul becomes my center. The world of the night is one of respite from daily routine which leaves me free for ventures into creativity. All the work I do requires light, whether of a computer to write or of daylight to clean my house or care for my garden. It is on my walks that I began to truly understand how winter, with its long nights, is traditionally a time of telling stories, dreaming dreams, creating poetry and songs and images. When I get home, I work at my daylight activities till I fall asleep because I have been able to create an artificial daytime. On my nighttime walks, I am free of the ability to work, so my mind and spirit race off into other planes, deep into new plots for novels, sparking fresh ideas and insights.
After teaching me about its world and then my own inner being, the night shows me that I can manage in both better than I thought. I learn that I can stumble, and even fall, and still rise again. Somehow, falling in the dark is considered to be worse that if it were in the light, as if somehow the rocks were sharper and the inclines steeper. Sometimes I stumble and lose my footing, but I keep going. I have learned I can walk at night and the leaves or snow will cushion my fall. I can stabilize myself with trees and shrubs, even if I can’t see them. I have given myself the power to be in places I would never have ventured into before.
My nighttime walks have shown me how beholden I am to my assumptions about night and venturing out beyond the realms of artificial light. My feeling of dependence on light has reinforced the idea that I need to be in civilization, to do what I must do to be part of what others before me have built, to be safe. Perhaps my nighttime walks are also metaphors for the realization of all that can be gained when we venture where we have been told we should not, when we put aside boundaries that keep us inside them even when there are beauties and possibilities and worldviews that we should be experiencing outside of them.
Of course, stories of female dieties and spiritual beings associated with nighttime have been telling the story of night’s mystery and creative power for a long time. From the Greek Achlys of the night came the creation of the world, while the Hindu Rati’s night was the time for creating new life. And these are only two. When I take my walks into the night, I experience these stories in a way that I cannot when I simply hear them retold. During my walks, I feel their touch gently.
The Winter Solstice will be upon us soon and, in the hemisphere where I live, that means that daylight will still reign when I set out on my walk. Within a month or two, I will be long home in my well-lighted town before darkness comes to any place where I can experience it daily. Then I will need to capture all that the night has become to me and hold it close inside me until next fall. Next week, I will welcome the sun, but also bid a sad farewell to the night.