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Friday, December 24, 2010

Night lights

I haven't seen any blog posts about the hoop-de-do eclipse the other night. I was up around 2:30 and the world was bright with moonlight, although clouds covered the sky. I've spoken with a couple of people who saw the world go dark around 4:00. By then I was back in my bed. I had wanted to see that eclipse sky just because the last time it happened the Tudors were in power and I'll never get another chance. Such a historic event and I missed it for want of sleep.


Earlier that day, around 5:30, I noticed a patch of pale light on the bathroom wall.  It took me a second to realize that it was a reflection of moonlight from the mirror on the opposite wall.  It charmed me because that window is small and high up on the wall, and facing nearly north/northeast as it does, it hardly ever gets direct light. There's something about patches of pale light on walls that soothes me.
When I was very young, sometimes I would stay for the random overnight at my grandmother's. Her house was one of gazillions built in a little northeast mill town in the railroad heyday of the late 19th century, the front door opening into the side hall with the stairway (that bottle of pink Air-Wick between the balusters on one of the stairs) and with the rabbit warren of upstairs rooms. No hallways in the days when that house was built, each bedroom led to another. My room, the one designated for overnight grandchildren, was a small room off her bedroom, with a small metal frame bed and a white matelasse coverlet. She would tuck me in at night, we'd say our prayers, and then she would leave me. The excitement of streetlights would keep me awake. After she'd gone back downstairs, I always looked around for a long time, just to see how different the furniture looked, illuminated by the pale secret oblongs of light cast through the windows. Streetlights! Such sophistication to a country kid.
When I grew up and lived in a tiny studio apartment, sometimes I would sit with my lamps off at night, just to look at the room in the wash of yellow-gray light that came through the windows from the street. I could move around and do almost everything I wanted to do in that light, feeling hidden yet protected, private but not alone.  The headlights from the infrequent car crossed the wall and disappeared. Here . . . and gone . . . the travelers oblivious of my observation. 
I got married and we lived in the suburbs where, shortly after our purchase of the house, the town planners in their infinitesimal wisdom changed the zoning across the street and welcomed a twenty-four hour supermarket, with adequate lighting for the parking area. I was assaulted by, pummeled by, Light all the hours of the night. I could not find a dark spot. The charm of light at night was no more. And so we moved to the country.


In the country, there is night light even when the moon is new, even on cloudy nights: I don't know where it comes from. There is no problem navigating while walking outdoors at 2am: brush and stone walls are solid humps of black and the open ways are colorless. One walks carefully, still, since the dips and bumps of the hayfields elude exposure and an ankle can turn quickly; it would be a long cold crawl back to the house. Down the hill toward the village I see the amber glow of the lights around the sheriff's office and the jail. In the other direction, through the bare trees, more orange light, a faint glow from what is called a city, twenty miles away. Amazing that that light could intrude here, across such a distance.


As I grow older, I need (they tell me, correctly) more light by which to read. To live, it seems, I want and and am comfortable with less light. A few years ago a friend who was staying with us came upon me in the pre-dawn while I was setting up the coffeemaker. 
"Why don't you turn on a light so you can see?" she asked. 
"Oh, I'm fine," I said.
"Oh," she said. "You're one of those."


It's a contradiction, since I love daylight. 
Maybe it's just artificial light that I dislike.

11 comments:

Pauline said...

I am reading this early in the morning, having gotten up well over an hour ago so I could wander my little cottage in the pre-dawn light. I could picture in my mind exactly what you were talking about when you mentioned the "night light even when the moon is new, even on cloudy nights..." that the countryside offers. I am one of "those" too, one who loves the natural light that is always present even in the dark :) Delightful post!

Hilary said...

Lovely post, June. I live in the suburbs but have spent summer nights at a cottage where the lake reflects whatever minuscule amount of light comes from above. It always took me time to adjust but I was amazed at how well and far I could see in the dark, and was told that it's not uncommon for younger eyes to be out there in a boat fishing, and even tying hooks by that light.

I did find my suburban surroundings pleasingly, dimly-lit the night of the eclipse and I did post about it.

VioletSky said...

It pays to work nights, so I had a full view of the eclipse.
I, too, much prefer dim light and people are always offering to turn on more lights, much to my dismay. We just had new lighting installed in our parking lot that is 1,000X times brighter and I find it irritating and not any safer than with the yellowish glow we had before.

Mac n' Janet said...

The eclipse was stunning here.
I love the light too, but hate artificial light and even more I hate the new energy efficient lights they're selling, I've been stockpiling the old ones.

ladyhawthorne said...

Alas we had too much cloud cover here for the eclipse, but the photos I've seen online are quite stunning.
I know exactly what you mean June, about the play of light at night. I spent many a night gazing around my room at the light and shadow inside or the way the streetlight lit up the yard through the trees, especially on a winter's night with snow covering everything.

Carolynn said...

I was afraid of the dark until late teens when, interestingly enough, I moved out on my own and occupied a small apartment alone. Hmmm...I'll bet Freud would have a field day with that one....

I laughed when I read the last bit. I'm the same way. One under the counter light in the kitchen is all I want on when I'm in there. Candlelight flickering in the rest of the house is perfect for me. Anything else feels like airport runway lights when the house is dark.

May you enjoy the merriest of Christmases and a year filled with joy, love, laughter, and exquisite good health.

Carolynn

Freda said...

We couldn't see the eclipse because of cloud cover. Even though we live in the country there are still security lights on houses and they come on at night because of deer wandering around. The best place for reflected light was when we had a boat, you could wake up early and see the reflected ripples of waves on the ceilings. Every Blessing and Happy Christmas

Fran said...

The older I get, the more I hate artificial light. We live virtually in the dark at home. I did see quite a few blogs about the eclipse, which meant I could have a good look at the pictures while still in the warm ...

Vicki Lane said...

Oh, how I agree! I hate those security light at night and love the natural changing light of the moon..

Merry Christmas to you!

Barb said...

Lovely piece, June. I, too, am a lover of ambient Natural light. In the mountains, I walk at night with a certain sure-footedness born of familiarity with my surroundings. I love the pale moon glow trickling onto the snow. I see with animal eyes.

Lord Wellbourne said...

Actually, the Stewarts were occupying the English throne....the Tudors had left it 35 years earlier. So, not to worry, June, you didn't miss anything in that respect. The Stewarts were such a dreary lot.

The light at night in the country that you're talking about is the very same light that seems to illuminate all the bedrooms in the movies....Lights out, the hero/heroine in bed pondering whatever scripted dilemma and there's always this ethereal light coming through the windows across their faces.