Living in the city, we forget how the dark is. We forget its thickness, its silence, its mystery, its dread. Skittering from one light to the next, our eyes never rest, searching, searching, searching. Last weekend the dark came back.
We were warned, of course. Plenty of prophecy on tap for this one, and the stores were flooded with buyers hunting for water, blankets, batteries, candles, flashlights — anything that might peel the darkness back or at least help to keep it at bay. But when it arrived, in huge swaths or small pockets around the city, the dark made our powerlessness clear. Our lamps were just so many lightning bugs, serving only to emphasize the darkness against which they flickered.
And this dark came with its own beauty, destructive though it was. Even as the ice coated branches and wires and broke them down, it absorbed and refracted any glitter. A bus travelling northward at dusk became a magical and dangerous voyage along a blackened street, the sun’s disappearance behind the horizon leaving only the headlights lighting the way.
As we crested each hill, strings of silver would emerge from the darkness, wires or twigs looming high out of the blackness for a moment and then vanishing as the little lights moved on. Passage was halting, as the bus would suddenly find its path blocked by fallen boughs jumping out of the darkness and would then inch into another lane to pass them. Many of us were heading home to dark and cold but, even in our annoyance and frustration, we remarked on the beauty of what we were seeing, and the bus hummed not only with chatter about who had what facilities available where but also with occasional exclamations at the annoying but beautiful impediments around us.
The days passed and for many of us the dark became the enemy, tout court. The last wisps of heat vanished from enclosed spaces, and the air in our homes began to sparkle with the same crisp smokiness as the outside. We began to abandon our homes to the implacable advance of the dark and its companion cold, uprooting ourselves and leaving behind the shell of civilization, seeking out light and warmth wherever they could be found. We either sheltered friends, family, neighbours, or were ourselves sheltered. Pipes froze, boughs cracked and fell on cars and houses and sidewalks and other boughs and–perhaps most importantly now–wires. The darkness spread like mold, inching across the city from its major strongholds into new areas, even while we had begun to fight it and turn it back.
Of course, we have the luxury of knowing how this fight will turn out. Place your bets, ladies and gentlemen; it’s a sure thing that light and warmth will come back–already or now or soon. The city has already pushed the dark away for myriads, even while myriads are still waiting.
And there will be scars from this fight; the city’s forest will remind us for years to come of the damage from this storm. And more immediate physical damage too–injuries from falling on ice and ice falling, and–heart-wrenchingly–deaths from those using the wrong tools to fight the dark and the cold. The dark has made us pay.
But in the long run, we win and dark loses. Maybe not every time but often enough that we feel secure of our light-filled world, however artificial it may be. We rejoice with lights–candles, fireworks, campfires–but it’s not a bad thing to be reminded of the dark, a silent and patient companion.
Yours from the warmth,