-NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER-
LINDA H.Y. HEGLAND
I never knew dark before I came to live at our farm. Not really. Not real dark. The occasional camping trip or venture out to a party in the country gave me a taste. But I had never really 'lived' dark.
In the suburbs of my previous life, the dark of night was always polluted with light. Streetlights, the yard lights of the train yard, the sign lights from the motel just over the block—the general constant glow of the city that lifted above like an umbrella. Dark was never really dark. I could always see my way on a late-night walk or out to the backyard to see where the dog had ventured.
Here, on the farm, dark is an essence. Here I can watch the dark rise just like I watch the sun rise in the mornings. It starts out the window of the east-facing guest bedroom. It rises up and over our house and our mountain, pulling its bruised-blue, then deepening purple-black cape behind it. Shrouding us. It lumbers on west, the various lights of day winking out behind it. I often take the cue from that bedroom window and hurry to the yard where I can watch our hayfield and willow trees darken behind our former barn and disappear into the impending night.
Here, I have a deeper understanding of dark. Unlike in the city where darkness is hinted at around the haloed glow of lamplight, dark at the farm is substantial and genuine. It is so much more, though, than just the simple absence of light. Dark strokes your skin - tenderly. It nudges itself under the fall of your hair (whispering), quests at the nape of your neck, drifts down your shoulders. It glides into your mouth, onto your tongue, down into your lungs. It creeps behind your eyes and slips into your mind. I see dark differently.
Even as a child I preferred dark, preferred night. Darkness softens the barbed edges of day; it tones down the too often strident colours of bright-lighted day. With the coming of dark, rather than the world closing in, the universe seems to expand. There is so much promise in dark. The world, as a whole, seems to feel that.
But let me be clear, dark is not necessarily black. At night, when I look to our pasture the darker lumps of cows can still be seen moving slowly across the field, doing whatever mysterious thing it is that cows do at night. Or the shadow of some kind of night bird—owl, whippoorwill, nightjar—moves to a tree branch like a drift of smoke. Those trees can be seen as a darker shade against the night canvas. If the moon is out, well, then the land is awash with silver, pearl against black, and the dark takes on the ornate finery of a monochromatic costume party. Nacre dresses and ebony masks. The round hay bales wear the silver backs of grizzlies.
The dark in the country means that I have seen Venus in the sky every single night. It shines bright and low even on the cloudiest night. Jupiter has also made an appearance most every night and, on one night during the summer, hung close to Venus along with a cuticle-shaped moon. The stuff of post cards. Other occasional planets, or satellites, or a star dying with more ardent passion than usual, make pinprick tracks across the night sky like ambient fireflies.
Back in the city, dark was something you put up with until the brightness of day came and you went on with your busy lives. Here, you wear the darkness. Hold it close and breathe in its night-time breath glorious with the smell of wet frogs and sleeping trees. Listen to its whispering poems of night winds and canny foxes. Taste the dark like moss and spring water on your tongue.