Blank Slate – Autumn Woods

•February 17, 2020 • Leave a Comment

 We forget what dark really is. Surrounded by the warmth and the glow of all that we’ve built, by walls and windows and hearths, by cities and bridges and lanterns, we dilute the night. We hold it back.  

Standing in the forest on a clear autumn night, with wind whipping through the bare trees and a perfectly clear sky overhead, you will remember what dark really is. The forests remember. Forests keep the Old Night under their boughs, and if you stray a little too far, they will try to reintroduce it to you.  

Standing there, miles from any home or hearth, looking up, you realize what the night really is.  

Night is the place where stars shine.  

The stars define night, stamp the shapes of the world into black around their myriad shapes. Outside the city, beyond the hearth, skin cut by a cold wind that seems like it flies straight from the hearts of the stars themselves, the real dark unveils itself, in its breathtaking beauty. What metaphor suffices? Diamonds on black velvet? Hardly; diamonds have no light of their own, and black velvet lacks the breathtaking, frigid clarity of a night sky.  

Nothing is darker than the shape of bare trees against starlight.  

Low to the horizon, between the trees, a single meteorite flares blue-green and plunges out of sight, a fleeting trail in the color of deep-sea predators. The stars seem to twinkle more rapidly in recognition, and as eyes acclimate to the dark, as faces turn upward to seek another falling star, the contrast between light and shadow deepens.  

In real night, you can stand on the balcony seat of the cosmos, peering out through stick-thin curtains that rattle and shiver in the wind. Without the white snow of winter, the trees are cutouts, impressions, shapes that could be twenty feet overhead, or twenty billion miles away. Their branches snake over the sky, two-dimensional, framing the splendid and infinite bridge of light that reaches across the hemispheres. Planets, indistinguishable from stars closer to the light of stoves and lanterns and forges, fairly blaze with color, saturated scarlet or citrine yellow.  

Leaves underfoot on an autumn evening, an evening that is autumn only in name, as the wind that freezes your face and rattles the stars is a winter wind, stealing away the smell of rain and dead leaves, bringing some distant missive from the place where stars shine.  

As high as we may build our towers, as far as we may fly our dreams, we are never closer to the stars than on nights like these.