This Thing Called Courage

Tuesday, January 02, 2007

Happy 2007!


Although personally I prefer to observe the New Year on September 1 or thereabouts-- somehow it feels more like a time for new beginnings-- school begins, the seasons change, the rush-- or indolence-- of summer is over, and one has a tendency to turn inward. The old Irish celebrated New Year on October 31, or Samhain; Jewish people celebrate it later in September. I observed the occasion this year by making art, and was probably happier than most.

Enough members of the Massachusetts Legislature did the shameful thing today and voted to move the ban on gay marriage amendement forward. A pox, I say! While anyone with half a brain should be able to grasp that civil rights granted to a marginalized minority should never be put to public vote (it is up to the courts to rule on Constitutional matters) the really vexing thing (other than the hypocrisy of the 'religious' opponents of gay marriage) is the amount of money and time and media attention the issue will now draw (to say nothing of busloads of idiots from states without a coastline coming here to spread their message of hate) when there are REAL problems that beset this country-- the ongoing illegal and immoral occupation of Iraq, poverty, cuts to social services and education, the environmental crisis, people going hungry, the vanishing of the middle class, the rise of greed, the march of fluff that used to be called the media, and so on. Oi very.

But what I really want to write about tonight is the night. For many years, I've had this thing for the night-- the day too, but, like the proverbial poor, the daylight will always be among us. Up until very recently, people were nocturnal, as well as diurnal-- we hunted at night, fished at night, traveled at night when we were nomadic, observed religious ceremonies at night, marked the seasonal changes at night (think the Mummers' Dance and all that) and so on. But now we have banished the night with 'security' lights that come on automatically, highways and roads drenched in that dreadful orange-brown sodium sulfur light, and abdicated what should be a cloak of mystery and delight to garish neon advertising. And I think something in our soul that longs for mystery has gone missing as a result. A part of our soul has atrophied.

It's interesting when one thinks of something, or feels a certain way, and then sees comparable sentiments echoed elsewhere-- and many people seem to feel the same way about the night:

"Are modern folk, perhaps, afraid of night? Do they fear that vast serenity, the mystery of infinite space, the austerity of stars? Be the answer what it will, today’s civilization is full of people who have not the slightest notion of the character or the poetry of night, who have never even seen night.” That was from Nan Turner Waldron, an environmentalist and author of 'A Year at the Outermost House,' who lived off and on for 17 years in the dune shack where Henry Beston (who wrote 'The Outermost House') stayed on Cape Cod National Seashore.

The point is, this evening I am infected with a longing for night. Usually the fit takes me in late summer, especially when the crickets get going, adding a dense layer of syrupy sweetness to the already enchanted summer night. But tonight is the full moon, and I know that the woods of Happy Land (the Middlesex Fells Reservation, right down the street from my house) will be radiant and magical by its light. And it's there I mean to go. Ah! But what inevitably happens is that the naturalist in me goes up against the imaginative me, and, inevitably, shocking scenes of sylvan mayhem inavde my brain like (to continue the B-film horror metaphor) so many maggots in a corpse. There is an old arched bridge 1/2 a mile up on the road I usually take into Happy Land, drenched in shadow and murkiness and the perfect place for a machete-wielding butcher to hide. While the moonlight makes the woods almost daytime bright, the brightest light casts the darkest shadow; and while here, for example, we have a hemlock shining in all its hunter-green glory, all be-silvered with moondrench-- its back side is-- or at least appears to be-- an open maw to God-knows-what kind of horror. The presence of a friend would help (you have to move up here, Clint, for adventures like these!) but there are only a few of my acquaintance who would go for such diversions, and none of them are around this evening. And my mother says she will be nervous if I go up there alone-- of course I won't be going alone, for Freddy, Jason, Frankenstein, and every other Bogeyman I can think of will be accompoanying me-- as well as Fionn the Dog. Although when it comes to things-that-go-bump-in-the-night, he does the wise thing-- and promptly ducks behind Daddy. He also pricks his ears up and does his funny guttaral growl at the slightest little thing-- which of course only makes my paranoia worse.

But at any rate-- I'll be off now, before I talk myself out of it, and make a report when I get back, about what the night is doing, and what is happening in the silent, enchanting (albeit coyote-ridden) woods and lakes and fields and hills of Happy Land, as it basks under the tangled nets of starlight.

Perhaps I'll bring a big-ol' walloping stick with me. Or a clump of garlic.

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