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Marsden Hartley: The Dark Mountain (1909)

" … blindness seems to help me see some things better."

The more we learn about our universe, the more light seems an alien element. Our Earth, like its moon, naturally produces almost no light, but depends upon light cast by a rather distant sun. We "see" into our universe by means of light, mostly the ultraviolet kind we cannot sense without mechanical assistance. What little light we manage to produce, fleeting and dim, slips through our fingers, gone almost before we sense it and certainly leaving more than ever arriving. In a galactic sense, we LiveInTheDark. Nobody in any distant galaxy has been tracking me by the light we emit because we hardly qualify as even a dim bulb in the firmament, though we still remain eminently capable of sometimes feeling absolutely full of ourselves.

Most, and me included, hug close to our light sources.
We most of the year rise around dawn and start thinking about sleep when the sun goes down. Summertime chases me into the inverse world, the one still dominated by darkness, and into learning my seasonal lessons there. I somehow manage to become fairly proficient at LivingInTheDark, following developing muscle memory to guide me without usually resorting to clicking on any light switch. The cats, especially Max, follow me around or lead me by the nose, for they can see much better than me in the dark, 50% better, whatever that might mean. It means that neither seem very bothered if I feed them in the dark. It means that I sometimes manage to step on a tail when I'm playing at the blind leading the blind around the place during predawn hours.

Yesterday, I was climbing the grand staircase in total darkness, by which I mean I was relying upon ambient streetlight slipping in through the windows and whatever the shadows allowed of a nearly full moon to intrude, and my developing muscle memory, to carry my bowl of early morning coffee up to my office to write. I must have been distracted, for I overestimated the progress I'd made, confidently stepping onto a landing that was still a step above where I stood. I fell to my knees on the carpet without spilling a drop of my coffee, a remarkable accomplishment and one deserving of a circus act, though it would have to be performed in the dark. The accompanying cat looked up, I suppose, wondering what in the heck I thought I was doing, for he saw the performance as if presented on a klieg-lit stage.

In the absence of light, I use my sense of touch. I feel my way through the dining room with one hand following the backs of the dining table's chairs. I sense the distance between the last one and the entry to the little hall into the kitchen. There, ambient light stealing in from the back forty, assists me. The Muse will have left a little maze of cleaned up supper dishes, a wine glass or two drying on the countertop, and typically, another unseeable land mine or two. I move through aware of what I can't know is there. How like my life, I consider, how like human existence. We were blessed or cursed with little natural prescience. We can see our recent past but not our immediate future. We move through this world as if walking backwards and I'd for sure break the space/time continuum if I ever managed to develop the ability to see whatever's right in front of me or coming up next. As my present slips into light, it immediately fades into a kind of twilight, illuminated exclusively by memory. Whatever's next remains a mystery until it resolves itself in a flash, quickly fading.

Our light encounters notwithstanding, we seem to be LivingInTheDark, and our chief difficulty might just be our tenacious inability to see that we do. We seemingly see right through the persistent illusion of not knowing to acquire the convincing conviction that we know so well. Confident then, we manage to blunder into yet another in a long line of encounters with presumption, which we might well fail to recognize in that light as anything other than a one-off spot of misfortune. Confidence perhaps wounded then but not vanquished, we set about reassuring ourselves that we can most certainly see what nobody in the history of this universe so far has ever seen. The resulting confidence passes for sane most places.

LivingInTheDark teaches more than mere acceptance. Lose a sense, or lose that beguiling confidence, and the remaining apparatus tends to compensate for that loss. I can touch my way around this place, my fingers making up for my visual impairment. Further, my brain engages at a different frequency. What I might have done without thinking in a well-lighted space, requires some thoughtful consideration in the dark. I imagine myself living more deliberately in the dark, more purposefully. I'm unlikely to attempt any but necessary movement and my universe seems to expand within these constraints. How curious!

What began as a modest consideration, to avoid turning lights on while The Muse was sleeping, has evolved into a damned-near imperative. I know myself now as a man who proudly LivesInTheDark. I am not actively seeking either illumination or enlightenment, just experience, just the reassurance that only ever comes from doing without something significant, from an absence. While my understanding seems to be expanding at about the same rate as the rest of this universe, my appreciation's expanding faster. What a reassuring relief it seems to no longer feel the need to see everything, to accept that my cats' abilities, in some significant ways, out reach mine, and that I'm unlikely to ever really find answers to most of my questions. Accepting this admittedly staged blindness seems to help me see some things better.

©2022 by David A. Schmaltz - all rights reserved

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