Seeing in the Dark
If we can conquer our fear of the dark for a moment, what is there to see? Imagine lying on your back on a picnic table in some national park. A warm breeze flows over you as your eyes adjust.
First come the obvious stars. There’s the Big Dipper, hanging to the north if you’re in the northern hemisphere, with it’s lip pointing at the North Star. Gradually, more stars become visible–the Milky Way with its mass of visible stars and its sweeping cloud of indistinguishable stars. The trees leave soft shadows in its silver light.
Imagine the June moon rising at about 10:30. It’s almost full, just lifting off the horizon, a huge, orange globe. the shadows become longer and harder in its light. Watch it rise, turning silver, outlining the doe that steps silently out of the woods to graze with her fawn at the edge of the picnic area.
Imagine the silence that follows the night. Perhaps it’s fall and you’re in elk country, bundled in long johns and jeans, laying on that picnic table, watching the stars and listening to elk whistle. Maybe you’ll hear a buffalo snort, maybe a bobcat scream. Maybe you’ll hear nothing at all. Only cosmic silence.
Come with me into the darkness.
This excerpt comes from Prairie Landscapes, available now from most ebook sellers.
We had hoarfrost this morning. White ice crystals adhering to everything like puffs of cotton seem to muffle sound. So you step out the door into a soft, white landscape like stepping into another dimension. Somehow, you seem completely alone in this wonderland, as if time has stopped and you’re the only one moving. Even the birds have disappeared.
You grab the camera and hurry to shoot as many pictures as you can before it all melts and drops to the ground with quiet little plops—thrusting you back into your everyday world. You need a record to prove—tomorrow or next year—that this spectacle really happened.
Dried up zinnias you left standing for winter interest have turned into dancing ballerinas in sparkling costumes—dancing the Nutcracker perhaps. A Spanish bayonet, green all winter, becomes a cluster of long spears outlined in silver.
You hear a mourning dove cooing—the only sound in the silence. It reminds you of angels, guardian angels your grandmother told you she heard when she was a small child, sitting on the back stoop with her brother, waiting for their parents to finish the chores.
You spot a silent flash of crimson, streaking from the cedar tree amid a shower of ice. The resident cardinal has found his way out into the hoarfrost too.
You think of water and head for the river where fog increases the sense of life stopped and muffled. Fog rises off the water enclosing every weed in white. A sodden tumbleweed becomes a crystal chandelier, fallen to the ground.
A pair of geese fly close overhead, their wing beats audible in the quiet—whoosh, whoosh, whoosh. You can see their heads turning, as though like you, they’re scanning their new, unfamiliar surroundings.
Rumbling along the tracks behind you draws your attention to a ghost train surging across the near distance, its whistle muted in the fog. Turning back to the river, you watch a ray of sun as it lights every weed, every cattail, every phragmites seed head in a blinding glitter.
Even as you watch, clumps of hoarfrost fall from twigs and branches, leaving them dull and gray. Slowly, slowly, magic disappears and life returns. Birds begin their morning concert and you see a bunny slipping between the weeds. You turn, round and round, and everywhere hoarfrost is falling, falling.
You know you may not see hoarfrost again for years, so you stay as long as you can, watching, snapping the shutter, over and over, to prolong this bit of magic until it’s gone—and you go back home for a warm breakfast.