October 19, 2017

Randy Thompson: A Late Autumn Walk at Dusk

DSCN2793

A Late Autumn Walk at Dusk
By Randy Thompson

Dusk is my favorite time for walking, when the sun has just set over the western hills so that the last light of the day slowly dims like embers of a fire going out. Night is ascendant, but, for a few minutes at least, it  is not fully dark. The shadows grow long and deep, but there are still gaps between the shadows where the dying light of day dimly and softly glows briefly before the full and final setting of the sun.

This transition time is particularly lovely when the moon rises, casting new shadows in its yellow-orange light. The woods become a silhouette of branches darkened to blackness in its dim glow.  Nearby houses darken into the growing night, their lit windows signs of warmth and shelter.

To be outdoors at dusk is to be completely alone. The light of day is gone, and so, for a time, are the responsibilities and demands that accompany daylight.  The glow of windows and all that goes on behind them are isolated islands of human habitation, whose demands  now are quietly alien and distant in the  gentle, soft glow of the November moon, as though I am sailing by strange shores inhabited by people with strange customs.

DSCN2792To be out at dusk is to be an outsider to the human world, a temporary stranger to a familiar place and to familiar people. Life’s details disappear in the night’s darkness and are revealed in new guise in the moonlight. One sees things differently. One remembers things differently.  The silence of dusk both  stills the mind and enlivens it. Everything is the same, but everything looks different.  Having abandoned human habitation for a time, one becomes aware of a grander, deeper habitation, of which the glow of moonlight is a reminder.

In the dusk darkness, unlit by lamps and human lights, the moonlight glow is deep and rich and inviting. The sky becomes both dark and bright at the same time. One sees, but one sees little among what has now become a mass of shadows.  But, what one does see is the  halo glow above them, the glow that transforms black branches into geometric patterns, that transforms the broken asphalt of a country road into a thing of beauty, an unlikely reflector of a light that is itself the reflection of the light of a now unseen sun.

As heavenly bodies go, the moon is little more than a cratered, barren rock. Unlike Saturn, there are no rings around it. Unlike Jupiter, there are is no riot of color, and no giant red spot. Unlike Neptune or Uranus, the emerald-green gas giants, the moon has no color. Unlike Titan, one of Saturn’s moons, there is no atmosphere. Yet, our moon is indeed a thing of beauty when the light of the sun shines upon it. Whether harvest moon, or blood moon, or just the plain, normal moon, it is not only beautiful, but a source of light as well, a source of light that makes other ugly things beautiful.

This soft, dim glow of light reflected off the heavenly rock shining in our night’s sky points to things unseen, for those who bother to think about it. The light we see doesn’t originate in the road’s pavement, nor in the air around us, nor, even, in the moon. It’s source is unseen. We see the light and see by it, we admire its beauty, but we can’t see its source. Sometimes, of course, when the moon is crescent, we can infer the direction from which the light comes, the crescent being a sign pointing to an unseen source.  From the perspective of dusk, that’s all there is to see.

This is what it is like to live in the world’s semi-darkness and to love the glow by which we notice the shadows, the glow of an indirect light by which we see what we can, but the source of which is hidden from us.

If we bother to notice, much of life is bathed in a similar glow, but one which is felt more than seen, where for no reason the mind knows we see ordinary, neighborly faces with new fondness, in a new light. Where small kindnesses appear out of life’s shadows, becoming signs pointing to kindness’ Source. Where self-sacrifices dramatic and mundane, big and small, shine gently around and even in the midst of the shadowy selfishness, greed and self-promotion that passes for human life.

There is an uncanny beauty loose in the world, if we but had the stillness of heart to notice it, if we were willing to venture out of the familiar conflicts of distracted living, of being mentally pulled and pushed electronically in a technological wasteland wonderland. But, to notice it, one must venture out and leave for a time the familiarity of normal life’s demands and expectations, and mentally walk out of the doors of habitual perceptions into the dark, where the light glows.

DSCN2783Sometimes it takes awhile for one’s eyes to get used to the darkness and the subtlety of dusk’s light, being blinded by the synthetic light by which we keep the darkness away. Yet, it is the darkness which differentiates the light, and if you’re going to see the real light, the light that points beyond this planet to something else, it means venturing outdoors beyond the confines of the steel-hard walls of technology, artificial connectedness, and manipulation, which we know all too intimately as a mental home that isn’t a real home. It means leaving behind bent-inward desires for other desires that take us into the revealing darkness and out of ourselves.

Yes, it’s dark out there. But, it’s the dark that enables one to see what video screens can’t show and what only human eyes and the human heart can, for it is only at dusk where one can see the light that reveals the shadows and the dark that reveals the light, and where we see the darkness-revealing light and the light-revealing darkness within our hearts.

“It was grace that taught my heart to fear,” the old hymn tells us, “and grace my fears relieved,” and so to walk in the moonlit dark is to walk in grace, the indirect light of a Presence we know in our heart, that is light and darkness, blindness and vision, by which we see what can’t be seen. This is the moonlight that beatifies and beautifies, that plants in our hearts the hope to which Dame Julian of Norwich gave witness, “That all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all matter of thing shall be well.”

To walk at dusk, to live for a time as an outsider  to the surrounding islands of human habitation, is at once to see less and to see more, to see incomprehensible shadows, and also the transcendent glow of holiness. Here is the humble shalom peace that passes understanding, the inner glow of heaven’s light on a barren, rocky soul.

Comments

  1. A lovely reflection, but for ME the dusk represents the failing light of life itself where fears insinuate themselves into the heart and mind.

    The hour before dawn is the time I most enjoy, where the darkness begins to fade and the false light of the moon loses its hold to the sun which lights it. It is also a time for hope to rise, another day promising something better. The warming air, the chorus of birds waking to begin their frantic day. And when the sun first breaks the horizon it is a signal for me to get moving, work to be done, a life to be lived.

    I can’t compete with Randy but, as they say, “different strokes…”

    • Right along the edge
      of dark morning and sunrise–
      All things visible.

      • Adam Tauno Williams says:

        Nice.

        I live very near the ridge of a river valley in which the city proper sits. One of my favorites is the just-pre-dawn in the spring; when the fog is so thick it can take on the apparent solidity of a cement wall. Objects against the fog are silhouetted in nearly perfect black and white. All the sounds seem distant, and damp, as if the vibrations are having to swim against a current. Then…. it trembles, a tiny breeze, a bit of the sun cracks over the horizon … and almost before I can take notice of it the air is clear, the fog is gone.

        Never ceases to delight. One day I am going to catch that moment, between the fog and the sky; I haven’t managed it yet.

      • It’s cold outside, it gets so hot in here
        The boys and girls collide to the music in my ear
        I hear the children crying and I know it’s time to go
        I hear the children crying, take me home

        11 o’clock…tick…tock.

    • Randy Thompson says:

      Oscar, I agree with you about dusk being a reminder of the “failing light of life itself.” Next time I go on a walk at dusk, I’ll keep that in mind. That would be a good meditation too, and not in a morbid way, either.

      My problem with the hour before dawn is that even if I’m up, I’m only semi-conscious, with what consciousness I do have completely focused on making and drinking coffee. I’ll let you send us hope-ful reports from the pre-dawn! (Or, next time I have a bout of insomnia, I’ll get up, go out, and see what’s going on.)

      • It’s always been the time of wakening for me. The world gets quiet and seems full of possibilities. I’m always more alert, more excited, more at peace during the night.

        The hour before dawn reminds me the night is over, and it saddens me. Time to crawl into bed to waken before the cool gold of the afternoon.

  2. David Cornwell says:

    Randy, thank you for this very beautiful piece.

    I also love the late hours at dusk. My childhood memories of summer when we were allowed to stay up late, play outside, hear the frogs and crickets, and catch fireflies. Sometimes if Uncle John was visiting, my Dad, Uncle John, and us boys would gather outside on the porch and in a lawn swing for them to talk, and us to listen. Uncle John was really my great uncle. He only visited about every other year. He had a bus he had converted into a mobile home of sorts. In the bus he had a small darkroom where he developed photographs. He had a collection of cameras of various sorts and I loved for him to show them to me. Some were simple old Kodak box cameras, but he had some better ones also.

    We were never in the house in the summer, unless we had to be. There was plenty to do outside, even in the dark, even if we just sat and said nothing after a long day. It seemed good then; and of course it seems good to me now. And no television program or video game can compare. Maybe a book can.

    Now mostly I love the couple of hours I sit up alone after dark. Things are changing. And in the aloneness of dark I can think my own thoughts for a bit and pray to God for his peace, for myself, and for those I love.

  3. Temporary strangers walking in grace.

    Thank you for painting these beautiful word pictures. I hope to return to them again tonight.

  4. Christiane says:

    HAVING COME TO THE SETTING OF THE SUN, BEHOLDING THE LIGHT OF EVENING . . .

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?gl=US&feature=related&hl=iw&v=uFU3LojPuM4

    I often take comfort in the beautiful words of the ancient hymn Phos Hilaron “Gentle Light”
    —the ‘gentle light’ that remains among the faithful even after night has fallen . . . a peaceful light, calming and as reassuring as the love of a parent towards a sleeping child who will not be abandoned in the darkness

    ‘Phos Hilaron’ is one of the oldest hymns in all of Christianity:

    “Gentle Light of the Holy Glory
    of the Immortal and Heavenly Father
    Holy and Blessed O Jesus Christ

    Having come to the setting of the sun
    Beholding the Light of evening
    We sing to the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit
    God

    Thou art worthy at every moment
    To be praised in hymns by reverent voices
    O Son of God, Giver of Life
    All the world glorifies Thee”

  5. Beautiful, Randy. Just reading this gives me a peaceful, easy feeling.

  6. The sun has gone down,
    and the shadows have reached out
    to embrace the stars.

  7. The power of light is something. Much like the right bed of music transforms an otherwise ordinary family video or some suchlike, so light creates a different context or texture for the otherwise ordinary visual. Light and music are alike that way. They enliven things and change them. I’m reminded of a fantastic song by Bruce Cockburn the lyrics of which are really only done justice, oddly enough, with the accompanying music.

    Bruce Cockburn – Northern Lights Lyrics
    Sunday night and it’s half past nine
    Sunday night and it’s half past nine
    Sunday night and it’s half past nine
    I’m leaving one more town behind
    Mirrors are showing the day’s last glow
    Mirrors are showing the day’s last glow
    Mirrors are showing the day’s last glow
    As we’re spit out into the jigsaw flow
    Ahead where there should be the thickness of night
    Stars are pinned on a shimmering curtain of light
    Sky full of rippling cliffs and chasms
    That shine like signs on the road to heaven…
    I’ve been cut by the beauty of jagged mountains
    And cut by the love that flows like a fountain from God.
    So I carry these scars, precious and rare,
    And tonight I feel like I’m made of air…