I own the moon and am an idiot to walk alone at night here

May 15, 2009 at 1:20 AM
One of the very best things about being on the ranch is the fact that the all-encompassing, endless blackness of night is an actuality here.

All the stories from ancient times about the sun, the moon, the powerful heavens, the endless depth of darkness.

Let me telll you what I've learned.

It is not that modern civilization, in its vanity and concieved perfection, has tamed the fear of black, the awe of the heavens. Not nearly. It simply distanced itself from it with bright lights.

The ambient light that caresses a city, bouncing and scattering all around, creating dull grey skies, is considered darkness when it is the farthest extreme you ever find.

By definition, most people live there. Most of us are city dwellers. But this has removed the opportunity to truly know the perceived absolute vacuum that darkness can be, and it also strips you of a birthright as a human, the strength of a sky that shines with spilt diamonds. The glowing aura of the moon.

Something miraculous happens when there is nothing sentient in your sight, when the world turns silver and black. And you are all alone with your thoughts, except for the hint of something alive that seems to throb outward from a huge, silver circle in the sky. The moon, outstripping the light of the thousands of stars that usher her into your sky. You can almost feel that the moon has a presence, has life.

Now, modern science shows that this is not the case. But the simple truth is, if you were where I am, you'd be seeing the moon as I do.

The sun looks the same here as it does most places. Maybe a little dimmer, since I'm more north than most populations in the world. No perceptible difference there.

But the moon, which has been pushing and pulling my female form around since I was 14, suddenly makes sense here. I understand why my body feels the pull of the moon, why my fertility is inextricably tied to the changes in distance of a whorling ball of rock, and I can see how and why the moon became revered in so many cultures.

Because you cannot help but see that the moon is not merely a slave to the earth, not merely a hunk of rock, but instead it is a powerful influence on all creatures of earth. It can change the shape of our oceans, it can affect people so deeply as to generate worlds like "lunatic", it can warp the fluxuations of millions of tons of rock, and even brighten my sky well enough to walk home at night in the dark.

The moon is remarkably present here. You can tell when it has arrived and it will not be ignored.


But when there is no moon, and cloudcover sweeps over the stars, this land gets darker than death. The air seems to suck away, replaced with a palpable, silently keening something just out of reach.

Lacking street lamps of any kind anywhere nearby, walking home in the dark here is a THOUSAND times darker than in the city. Not one tiny particle of light enters the eye, and your mind screams out danger louder than you can tell yourself to calm down. There is literally nothing there to see, no matter how long you wait for your eyes to adjust.

When your eyes report that you are completely blind, suddenly your ears prick up at EVERY noise. I discovered a few nights back that human ears can indeed 'prick up' - the muscles above my ears automatically tighten and raise my ears up somewhat, some ancient primal instinct I had no control over.

Unless you can scientifically explain to yourself the vacuum of light particles, think your way to where something is throwing out light, using only sound, feel, and by sway of the terrain beneath your feet as cues, you will succumb to your own fear. Forget nocturnal predators.

There is a reason that horror writers use the dark as a fallback. Instinct tells us that the dark is to be feared. Too many have died in it.

It does make sense; both the science that says I'm safe and the instinct that says I'm not. Our greatest nocturnal enemy is our own intellect, the instincts willing us to panic, out logic willing us to calm down.

I was walking home from Tammy's two days back, having forgotten she wasn't home and having had darkness fall extremely suddenly, I realized that I had failed to bring a lamp.

It was suddenly completely pitch black.

So I tell my eyes they are not blinded, and to look for luminous eyes. Night creatures have such beautiful luminous eyes. I wondered whether the predator ever wishes his prey had a sense of the aesthetic, so that he could know that his prey fully appreciated the beauty of his killer in the pouncing. But then I realized that the only prey around here that might is me. And I fervently hoped my local predators were not sentient enough to want that.

As I crossed the bridge, carefully scooting my feet along to make absolutely certain I didn't step off the edges (not much siderailing on the bridge, it's just slabs of cement), I tried breathing shallowly so as to hear better. My feet made unbelievably loud scooting sounds on the cement. Unnatural, echoing in the darkness like a beacon. (HERE I AM! SILLY WANDERING SOFT FLESHY HUMAN HERE!)

And if my feet scooting wasn't enough, I realized how foolish it was to use the stinky shampoo - the cougar, the bobcat or even a bear would certainly smell me now. And it's not as though I needed to drum up a predator from scratch. We already know these animals are here on the ranch.

Once I reached the gravel on the other side of the bridge, I breathed out big. I hadn't realized I'd stopped breathing. Very shortly after, I almost stepped off the gravel, and I realize I'd been mere inches from the side of the bridge for the last several feet of my spanning it. I was mere inches at that same moment from where I knew we needed to shore up the gravel. I was on the loose section. Crap. Me feet scooted over to the left a little at a time without my even thinking it. I found myself safely centered on the gravel again.

I stuck my hand in front of my face to test the darkness, but could not see fingers. I only knew I existed because I could feel myself existing.

Leaves were unbelievable sharp smelling. I heard the tinkle of gravel beneath my feet, and I felt the swish of my pants as almost a giveaway. ("Stop leaking the scent of my fear out, armpits. Stop swinging in the slight breeze, hair.") I could smell my hair over everything. I tried to push most of my hair down into my shirt collar.

Thankfully, the creek makes a great deal of noise, I thought. It'll cover me.

Oh, wait. It also covers predatory noises. I suddenly wished I was barefooted. I could easily stop crunching so much if I could walk softly. I realize how important it should be to maintain the basic instictive knowledge we're losing as a race.

What a foolish thing it would be to become super-beings, and then lose our ability to protect ourselves from lesser life forms. The future-perfect almost-alien humans from the 50s movies, taken down by some housecat with a new idea.

Focus... The road is THERE. I visualize it and my mind starts trying to see the road. I think for a moment I'm looking at it. Cruelly, I play a trick on myself and my imaginary road starts cofusingly twisting.

Deep breath. Road is where it has always been. Can't see it - must trust logic. Roads don't move.

It slopes up and to the right. Walk that way.

So I did. Suddenly, walking snapped me out of my fear.

I could not see any part of myself, and that alone is enough to force your attention outward in extreme focus. But you must also be active. Inactivity breeds panic, especially in the dark.

A twig snapped over to my right, subtle, terrifying.

I thought about it. It was from over on the high ground, downwind - down-breeze technically - perfect for the cougar. If I were a big cat looking for an idiot human, I'd have been right over there where the twig snapped.

Mentally calculating in my head whether the snap I heard could have been made by a small enough twig to be snapped purely by the power of a breeze, and trying to force myself to rememberthe exact windspeed at the moment when the breeze reached me right after the twig snapped, I gave up. I simply wasn't going to know whether there was a cougar over there.

I stepped up my pace, now controlling my breathing and attempting to calm myself. Walking alone at night is majorly stupid here. I cursed my idiocy for one moment, and then thought "What if there is a cougar that wants to eat me? Would I like my last thought to be me calling myself an idiot?" Definitely not. So I filled my mind with thoughts of my daughters, my sisters, and my parents. And kept walking, making sure I stayed on gravel. Not running, I'd run right off the road, and then I'd be dead anyway, cliffs to the left and slippery mud on the right. My foot caught on a round something in the road. Of course, being in a scared mood, my mind immediately starts providing likely candidates from the morbid end of the idea spectrum (bone? body?) but I know it's just a big stick or branch.

I balance carefully to bend down and pick it up. Little do you realize how very much you depend on your sight when you bend, swoop, swing a limb. I got lightheaded, entirely psychosomatically, on my way back up.

Presumably a mossy stick. Felt a little rotted out in the middle. But strong enough to weild.

Weilding felt better than limply swinging my arms like bait.

I grabbed the moldering branch portion with my right hand, fiercely. Ii'm positive that had I been able to see my knuckles, they'd have been bone-white, with little red lines across them like cat's eyes from the stress. To hell with exascerbating my carpal tunnel syndrome, I wanted a stick and I wanted to hit something with it.

I kept walking, listening for gravel beneath my feet, correcting course, paying attention to the swoop and curve of the road beneath me.

When I reached my steeply rugged driveway, I was so thankful. I practically ran up it. I slipped a bit, having not remembered where the potholes are. It felt three times longer than it ever had before.

As I rounded the last hill and the light from my porch struck my in the face, it felt solid. It looked so bright. I was blinded for a moment, the light, despite being unbelievably welcome, felt harsh and bitter.

My eyes took a while to become the primary input method for my mind. My ears remained pricked up for a good while. It took wrapping myself in my pashmina, and sitting on the porch looking out at my small semicircle of lit-up grass drinking a cup of tea, before I chilled out.

Looking around me right now, I see lights brightening every corner, and they seem so very much brighter for my recent brush with darkness.

There is something to be said for extremes, and for experiencing them once in a while.


  1. Kat Says:

    Desi. I love your adventures and the way you write about them. You're amazing with words, painting pictures with them. It's beautiful but natural. Not contrived and flowery.

    I was in darkness almost this dark once. A rabbit terrified me. There was just enough light that I could see it was a rabbit when it was a foot away from me. There was something life-changing about that moment, being lost in the dark like that, being terrified and then so relieved to be alive.

  2. desi Says:

    Agreed. It is helpful to let some adrenaline into your life once in a while. Oh, BTW, there is a mountain lion roaming these parts, with her babies. I saw one of the babies last night, romping.

  3. Shelley Says:

    Hey Desi,

    Sounds like you and I have been kind of on the same page lately. I just wrote a SF story about how lack of night time, real real darkness makes people arrogant and self centered.

    The only difference with you and me is that I'm not afraid of the dark, maybe because I grew up somewhere with no predators.

    Love you

  4. Kat Says:

    Shelley's story sounds neato! Can I read it Shelley? I LOVE SF.

    Desiloo, I tagged you on my blog. In case you feel like talking about how awesome you are.

  5. desi Says:

    I wanna read everything either of you writes. I want to disappear into a world with nothing but writing in it.

    I found an old phrase "No dark like country dark". Funny how I keep reinventing old wive's wisdom.

    There needs to be a book of old wisdom so we stop losing track like this...