Sunday, March 22, 2015

Remembering the Night

So dark now that you can't see your hand in front of your face. I remember darkness like this from my younger years. I would often camp and fish in the high cascades of Oregon. My friends and I would come back from fishing in the evening and we would clean our fish by the lakeshore in the last light of day. One of us would have built a fire and we would wait for the flames to shrink to the coals and then we would fry our fish in an iron skillet, generally a mix of brook and rainbow trout. We would wrap potatoes or sweet potatoes or corn on the cob in foil and bury the bundles among the coals to be baked.

Often we would talk late into the night, re-stoking the fire with larger wood until the flames grew high and the round rocks around the pit grew hot to the touch. We joked and laughed. Philosophized. Talked about girls. Sometimes we just sat and gazed at the glowing of the coals, full of fantasy worlds, burning cities, shimmering castles, demons and angels. At last, I would walk back to my own camp, barely able to divide the borders of the narrow dirt road from the verge of the forest. I prided myself on using no light - but for that from the distant stars. This was how well I knew my world - that world - back then.

Why did I go without light in those woods? Maybe it was for the heightened sense of presence - my own presence in the overwhelming extreme of the cosmos, the glimmering, incomprehensible, endless expanse of the silent stars, the blindness cast by night on the earth, a darkness alive with shapes nonetheless, some real, some not, some lit by the touch of memory only, an inward sense of time and space and distance that had been learned through the subconscious study of many days.. Maybe darkness was made yet more purely dark by the element of fear feeding on a thousand imaginations. Was that shape a stump or a bear? Was there someone behind me or someone before me? Did the sound of those footsteps belong to me or to someone else, or to something else? To cast a light upon perfection would surely shatter it.

The crickets in those days chirped by the millions, lining my path with song, calling out the presence of the edge of the road, the beginning of the wall-like wilderness, while in the further distance the breeze whispered its news about the presence of the lakeshore and the lapping of the water against the rocky point where I had cast my line a hundred times before. At the proper time, I would turn to the sound of that whisper and soon the lights of other campfires would appear, like glowing coals at first, and then growing, the flames casting dancing shadows between the trees, sparks ascending as if to join the stars. Someone, indeed, had started my own fire, perhaps old Jake, who was always alone, had throat cancer, and could not speak except to himself. He always saw me before I could be seen, and always raised a hand as soon as I could see it.

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