Elusive Darkness

Today’s post comes from Barbara in Rivertown

Just as “sound pollution” makes it difficult in most of our country to find a place where there is complete quiet, “light pollution” means it’s difficult to find a place that is totally dark. You may have seen a map like this of the United States, showing our light-polluted spaces. Some of the ramifications in my life:

– The only time I have really seen the Milky Way was on a trip to Utah in 1995.

– I’ve learned to use an eyeshade in the times of more daylight, allowing me to sleep better. And when I get up in middle lf night, I don’t really need a night-light to find my way to the bathroom.

A dancer friend writes a couple of blog posts a month, and her November 28 post is about what she calls “holy darkness”.    I quote:

– “Darkness is the absence of light but it is not the absence of the Divine.”

– “Years ago friends told me about a lecture exploring how electric lights have completely changed our relationship to night and experience with darkness. Our conversation inspired us to experiment with fasting from electric lights for an entire night. We call it our holy darkness practice. We bring out candles and get very cozy. “

I hope to find a night soon, at this darkest time of year, when I can spend at least a couple of hours with just candle light, and experience what I can of darkness. How long I will last without my lamps, lighted screens, and phones I cannot say. I might read a book by candle light, or find someone to tell stories with. I will be sure to do this AFTER supper… I don’t feel like cooking over a candle flame.

What would you do with an evening of “total” darkness, except for candle light?

51 thoughts on “Elusive Darkness”

  1. As a person who cares about words, I have to register an old disgruntlement with the phrase “light pollution.” This is not a complaint against you, my friend, but with a too-common sloppiness of thought. Pollution, by definition, is toxic or at least unhealthy. Electric light, while it might be disagreeable or unappealing, is not poisonous.

    You, BiR, have been in a place where darkness is total, for you were at the cabin I owned on the cliff overlooking Lake Superior. That spot is about as free of artificial light as anywhere can be in the modern world. The darkness there is profound. Starlight and the Aurora Borealis are compensatorily intense.


  2. I appreciate your attention to nuance, Steve, and I am similarly sensitive, but to say that the omnipresence of electric light is never harmful or toxic is anthropocentric at the very least. There is substantial research to suggest that light pollution is also harmful to humans as it affects melatonin levels, circadian rhythm,etc.

    Here’s an exposition of that:

    Liked by 4 people

    1. You put a word in my mouth that I don’t use. I don’t like to say “never” (and am similarly averse to “always”). The article you cite agrees with my sense that excessive light is undesirable and somewhat harmful. My unhappiness with calling it “pollution” remains.

      We don’t disagree on the main point. There is too much damn light at night, especially in urban areas.

      In the first month I spent in my Highland Park home I attended a neighborhood meeting. My neighbors wanted to put a sodium vapor light up over our alley to prevent crime. We were all asked if we would pay $10 a month to erect and maintain the light. I revealed my politics by saying I would contribute $10 a month to keep such a thing from happening.

      Liked by 3 people

  3. We’ve talked previously, I think, about what people did before the advent of artificial lighting. They tended to sleep in two portions with a period of wakefulness in between. In this wakeful period they would read, write, have a snack, sew or knit and sometimes visit neighbors. I could do any of those things (except knitting- I don’t knit). I don’t think the neighbors would appreciate a visit, though.

    Liked by 3 people

  4. Morning all. I’m not good at just sitting, so this is a difficult question for me. Maybe if I had my Walkman (yes, they do still exist) I could listen to a book while enjoying the darkness??? My guess is, however, that after sitting still in the darkness for a bit, I will doze off!


  5. Once on a camping trip (Child was about 8), we had to make a midnight run to the loo. We were in northern Wisconsin and the sky was sparkling with an abundance of stars. Having been raised in the middle of a big city, Child had never seen anything like it. It did make me a little sad that a night sky filled with stars is not something that many young folks will never see.


    1. Great video, thanks for posting it Steve. My friend, Melissa Greener, has one of Mitch Greenfield’s Novax Fanned Fret System guitars. I watched this video with great interest as another friend and former co-worker of mine, Charlie Hoffman, is also a fine guitar maker. Exquisite work.


  6. When I have gone camping – or to a friend’s cabin – what I appreciate about the darkness is the ability to just sit and listen to the sounds of the world. Perhaps chat with whoever may also be there, but mostly to appreciate what is immediately there. No distractions or extra entertainments. If I had a whole evening or two or three, I might write (I kept a journal when Daughter was nursing that was frequently written in the dark…there are many entries that I can only sort of read – but it was useful to write, even if I can’t read it now).

    Liked by 2 people

  7. Farmers and ranchers like those vapor lights for safety and protection. I don’t know if light scares off the coyotes or mountain lions out here, but at least you can see what is wandering around your yard. It is a comfort to see them as you drive in the wildness out here.


  8. Same as most replies, my “total darkness” is in the BWCAW. I always enjoy a campfire. As the embers die to nothing, the darkness gradually creeps in and becomes absolute unless the sky is clear, in which case there is some light–full moons up there are amazing.

    But I’ve had nights up there where it is so dark I can’t see the tent material inches from my face. I savor the dark even as I simultaneously fear it because it’s such a rare occurrence and I lose confidence if I can’t see even a few feet in front of me when I’m outside. But boy oh boy, when I’m in total darkness, my hearing rapidly improves. 😉

    Chris in O-town

    Liked by 4 people

  9. We had so many differing Christmas routines (at least 4) that we decided we needed something that was just ours. We decided on solstice.

    On the longest night of the year, we don’t turn on electric lights. We light some candles (and we use some battery powered candles). We lay out a smorgasbord while we can still see, and then we devote the evening to grazing and talking to each other. Usually sometime before 9pm, we’re relaxed and tired and off to bed.

    Liked by 5 people

  10. You asked for a darkness story. I entertained a friend at my cabin. The sunset was spectacular, so we went down the stairs into the rock quarry that lies next to Lake Superior. We took glasses and wine, sat on one of the boulders down there are toasted the colors as the setting sun lit up the sky.

    Then . . . total darkness. TOTAL inky darkness. And of course, no flashlight. Just to test the cliche, I held my hand inches from my face. Couldn’t see a thing. What is left of the old quarry is a jumble of boulders ranging from the size of a cow to the size of an Sherpa SUV. The boulders are a confusing jumble with all kinds of gaps and spaces around them. It is a challenge to walk there in broad daylight, but this was in the dark and after wine. We had to navigate the boulders by Braille. It took us the better part of an hour to move about 12 yards to the base of the stairwell.


  11. When the power goes out once in a while, I almost panic because I don’t know what to do with myself. I feel the same way if my computer or TV won’t work (although I’m pretty content just with my computer). I’ve often wondered how I’d fill my time in a complete blackout, but I’ve been lucky enough when it has happened that it’s not too early to go to bed.

    Once last winter, the power went out when it was -30 for 10 hours. Fortunately, it was evening, but, no matter how many layers I put on, I shivered all night. It was so cold that it killed my several houseplants! The next day, a friend asked me why I hadn’t made a fire in the fireplace. I hate to admit it, but the thought never occurred to me.


  12. Darkness Story: One time on a dark cloudy night, I went to the outhouse. Didn’t take a flashlight because there was enough light nearby to kinda see my way and my feet knew the way there. Well, once inside, it was pitch black and I got turned around. Had a h*** of a time trying to find the door.


    1. thats kind of the definition of knowing your in trouble. if you are lost in the outhouse and cant find the door you know you have a problem … or the outhouse is way to big


  13. thanks bir
    i can see the skies just closing my eyes and going back

    i spent lots of time camping out in remote areas as a young man
    i never had any lessons or input on any of that stuff i just knew it was for me.
    i don’t remember camping at all before i got my vw man and at age 16 i bought a tent a coleman stove and an ax and away i went. weekends up north summers cross country and einter camping because it seemed like the only thing to do
    the skies were incredible. north dakota was a great place to start. what skies after the campfire died then down to pick up my friend in utah via the back roads and camping in state and local parks where the water lapped up on shore and the sunsets were the highlight of the day
    we always had firewood on board to start the fire but found it best to get a campsite picked a firewood gathered for dinner and breakfast the next day. as the fire got cranked up then turned gray and the red glow we would pull up a log and a guitar and look up
    i miss those times but i will never forget them
    thanks bir
    so was the star of bethlehem on christmas night or was it 40 days later as the three kings followed it to hand out gold frankensence and myrr to the new king
    bet it was dark as hell and if they had to follow the star did they travel at night or just point thataway and ride those camels when the sun came up?

    Liked by 2 people

  14. When I used to process my own film and whenever I did something in the darkroom without a safelight, I always found it was easier to work in the dark if I closed my eyes.
    When I close my eyes in the dark at bedtime, I see colors and patterns. If I leave them open in the dark, I don’t.

    Why is that, I wonder.

    Liked by 2 people

  15. It worked! Yay!

    I’m okay with low light conditions. I am more calm with less artificial light. I do well in candlelight or near a bonfire. Total darkness is a different thing and can be overwhelming as you feel your other senses coming alive. I’ve been to Steve’s cabin and it certainly would be hard to navigate those boulders and through the trees back to the cabin. It’s good you were familiar with the area, Steve.

    I spent a night camping alone at George Crosby – Manitou State Park once. I had a little campfire and ate supper. I went to bed when the fire died down and fell asleep at once. I woke up to the sounds of enormous animals crashing around me in the woods. It sounded like a pack of wolves was chasing a herd of moose through my little campsite. I was terrified. It was pitch black. I had to pee. There was all this sound around my little tent and I considered grabbing my flashlight and unzipping the tent but I was too chicken. I waited it out until the sounds got a little less crazy and finally crawled out. There didn’t seem to be any animals right around my site. I went back to bed and stayed there, listening, until birds began to sing in the morning. I got up and looked around my campsite. There was no sign that any animals had been there: no paw prints or deer tracks. Nothing unusual at all. I know that small animals, like squirrels, can sound huge in a quiet woods. It was probably some small nocturnal animals snooping around for food in my campsite (no, I’m not that dumb) and they just sounded huge because of the darkness. It’s very disorienting for us. We’re so dependent on our eyesight.

    I marvel at a woman I’ve met. She has multiple disabilities. She is blind and deaf. She has no idea what other people are like. Yet she trusts. She is one of the happiest and sweetest people I’ve ever met.

    Peace on earth. Welcome the return of light!

    Liked by 3 people

  16. Hi Kids!

    Happy Christmas Eve!

    A few years after taking over the farm, we had the yard light disconnected. It was nice to have, (in fact, added a few more smaller security lights after taking the big one down) but we wanted to be able to see the stars. We appreciate the darkness and I know we’re lucky to be out in the country. It’s not so dark we can see the Milky Way; Rochester is only a few miles away, but I am lucky that we can see the stars. 🌟 ✨ ⭐️
    Thanks for the great stories today everyone!

    Liked by 4 people

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