Back on the porch at the Johnny Gunter Cabin, I sat in my plastic lawn chair, engulfed in a sea of darkness kept at bay only by a bubble of LED light from my headlamp. There were no streetlights, no house lights, no headlights, no holiday lights. There was the sigh of wind in the old growth on the ridge, the tick of a few drops of rain on my truck. The night beyond my headlamp was “pitch black.” I’ve never understood the phrase because I grew up in Douglas fir country where pitch is the color of amber. Darkness was ratcheting down in these two weeks before the winter Solstice, driven by astronomical events utterly beyond my control. I sat quietly, writing in black ink in a black leather-bound journal, hoping all this crushing blackness might squeeze some essence out of me, something that may have been diluted by an overly busy autumn.
Normally I am on the porch at dusk, waiting with outstretched senses to feel the drapes of darkness fall. But I didn’t arrive in the valley until late afternoon, in this time when afternoons are very short. My garlic had badly needed planting--I was a month late getting it in, but it will grow. With the remaining light I stripped blackened tomato plants from rusty cages, broke down dark corn stalks still wrapped in twiney brown bean vines. The dead plants were laid across the tops of the garden beds from which they had grown, and would decompose and nurture new life in the spring. Other layers would be added over winter—horse straw, a smattering of chicken manure. I rolled up the soaker hoses that had carried water from the spring to the plants and kept them thriving over that hottest driest summer now passing into memory.
I worked through dusk. A storm was lying just off the coast, exhaling its warm humid breath onto the land. In the dying light, I looked west and saw dark ragged clouds flying in on the gray horizon. They were the wraiths of battleships. I wondered why they came, these vaporous shadows of war. Were they running from a fight lost long ago? Or were they harbingers of a new war, sailing toward the scent of fear, the prospect of new blood? I willed them back to the ocean. But the Pacific is not peaceful in winter, and this storm was strong. My individual resolve was no match for a force this formidable. I needed help.
I packed my things in the light of the headlamp, switched it off, and hung it on a nail inside the cabin. Fumbling my way to the door, I found the keys and locked the house by Braille. Back in the truck, I drove up the road to Martha and Jerry’s. Martha made dinner. We drank wine. We listened to the pounding rain. As I walked into the night, Light from the kitchen pushed outward into the dark world.