I plan to spend some time during the rest of this winter appreciating what winter nights have to offer. I have been reading “Let there be night: testimony on behalf of the night,” edited by Paul Bogard, an interesting book that reminds me of many of the “gifts of darkness.”
Winter has the longest nights of the year. So it has the most darkness for us to face. As with cold and snow, I propose that we should try to take advantage of what winter has to offer.
Most Americans today live in communities where lighting is so extensive that our perspectives on night become limited. We can no longer see many stars; we no longer feel the deep spaces far beyond us, and night loses some of its power. Certainly this is a problem in a metropolitan area like Milwaukee, although I did find a number of nights each year when I could see over a hundred stars while walking along the lakeshore.
But the darkness has something to offer; it can help us reflect both inwardly, and outwardly. We can look outward, because looking at distant stars can remind us that our place in the universe is but a small one. A reminder that can be unsettling at times, admittedly. Similarly, stepping out into the cold reminds us that just because most humans choose to stay indoors does not mean that the world stops; other creatures continue their lives even in the bitter cold. Much exists beyond our comfort zones, whether it is the temperature or the distance that unsettles us. We need such reminders.
Darkness also provides a chance to look inward. What would a spiritual ‘dark night of the soul’ be like without a long dark to be part of? If winter leads us to be indoors more often, we can use that time for productive reflection. If we can’t see much looking out our windows at night, then turn the eye inward, to see what we can discover in our hearts and minds. (TVs and warm houses are pleasures, but we need to step away from them and rely on our own imagination, and our own body heat, at points.)
And do not forget the pleasures snow can bring to darkness. I have recently enjoyed sitting at my window and looking out at the mix of shadow and glow that I can see as the moon casts its spell over the landscape. Snow’s reflective properties provide a luminous quality to the floor of the landscape, a quality not there during other seasons. Sometimes I might just look out at that dim radiance amidst the darkness. At other points, I focus on the shadows of trees, something else one cannot normally see at night.
I hope to return to this topic after a month or so. Until then, I hope that you as well as I will spend some time appreciating what we can find in the dark.