Mar 18, 2010
Darkness (n): absence of light or illumination
Blackness (n): total darkness
In the wee hours of the morning, I awakened and opened my eyes. Then I closed my eyes. I opened them. I closed them. There was absolutely no difference. I did it again. No difference. With my eyes open, I touched the bridge of my nose, pressed my palm into my face. Nothing. Just darkness.
The presence of my hand on my face didn't make a darker darkness. With or without my hand on my face, the darkness was black. A flat, depthless black like I have never experienced outside of a cave. A blackness such as might exist at the end of the universe. A void.
My first cogent thought: I've gone blind.
I sat up, turned toward the window. Nothing. No gossamer glow of fog-refracted starlight.
Not even the vaguely lighter darkness of a cloud-shrouded moon. No difference whatsoever. The same shadowless, impenetrable black wherever I looked.
I reached out carefully and turned on the bedside lamp. With a click, the room exploded into view. My heart clenched and my breath quickened.
I am not blind.
The honey-hued log walls glowed like sunrise. Purple comforter. Red pillow. Lichen-green curtains. I blinked, dazzled by color. Shocked by the architecture of objects. The complexity of the material world.
I turned off the lamp. Blackness.
I gasped. There was absolutely no fade-to-black process. Darkness didn't descend, it arrived with breathtaking violence. An instantaneous erasure of light.
I blinked, straining to see. I held my hand about three inches from my face and stared at it, willed myself to see it, a deeper blackness in the black, an electric shimmer. Nothing. I moved my arms through the air, reaching, swimming. I thought of blind deep-sea fish. It wouldn't take long for eyes to become pointless in an environment like this.
I turned on the lamp.
Let there be light.
Is this how it happened? Light, not ascendant, not dawning, but instantaneous, explosive? Did Nothing become All at the speed of thought?
I picked up a flashlight. Turned off the lamp. I walked to the bathroom and then to the other bedroom. I peered down the stairs. No lighter darkness, no darker blackness. The same void everywhere.
It occurred to me then that without the lamp or the flashlight, until the sun rose, I would have absolutely no way of determining that indeed I had not gone blind.
And this thought filled me with wonder. How many sighted humans living on Earth today have ever experienced such utter blackness outside of a cave? How many have stood in the midst of their every day world as in the void of space?
I walked back to my bedroom and stood at the window that faces Tamarack Ridge. I opened the window. I turned off the flashlight. Cool air pressed against my skin, odorless and silent. No leaf rattle or limb creak. No water drip or mouse skitter. No electrical hum or engine rattle. No owl song or coyote laugh. No sound. No smell. No sight. Just the cooler air on my face, weightless as spirit.
For untracked time, I stood there in front of the window, floating in the void, the skin of my bare feet against the floor my only tether.
If nine wind turbines are erected on that ridge, there will be one less place on Earth where such a thing is possible.