The Self in the Dark

I finally realized where all of my time goes. I spend most of it moving around town. Elaborate and often fruitless errands require long walks along the canal, a bike ride to the other side of town, or a zigzagging circle past the Chinese grocery store, down to the best coffee, over for a glance at the river, and then back via the good baguette bakery. My mother has spent most of her life working outdoors and my brother zips through space and over mountains and through water fast enough to win medals. I see my son singing on his bike as we ride along in the foggy night along Toulouse’s little bike highway. We all enjoy being outside moving and it is even better at night. Last night we saw a half moon and the night before we saw a mysterious creature swimming in an almost empty canal, muskrat?

Where we live. Walk in a line, walk in a circle, canal on one side, river on the other, or plot your diagonals.

Many years ago I waited all day on the Oregon Coast for my brother to finish surfing so we could go mountain biking together through the fir trees. We rode up through the forest in a misty autumn evening and when it was time to descend it was dark. My brother is fearless on the descents and so I followed him. We had no lights and I realized that I could feel where the trees were because there was a slightly warmer pocket of air around them. We made it to the bottom safely, I was much slower than he was, and it felt great. In this modern world we just don’t spend enough time outside at night, in my opinion.

I like to think of Joan of Arc sleeping outside with the troops, gathering her strength from the stars above.

When I was a child, my only girlfriend lived in the woods, a short walk away to the end of our property. At her house there was television, canned black olives, and lots of room for messy art projects. I took pride in walking home through the forest with no flashlight. I knew the way and it wasn’t long but I loved being out there, feeling my way with my proprioceptors instead of my eyes. I wasn’t scared of the dark and I liked noticing the space as my skin felt it. Trees don’t mind at all if you walk by at night. These walks continued until high school when we grew apart and went to different schools.

At night, in Toulouse, a patient dog in a butcher shop.

A few years ago my friend lost both of her parents and had to clean out the house in the woods. I stayed there late, scrubbing, packing, lifting, organizing until finally I was so hungry and so tired that I had to go back to my parents’ house. I decided to walk through the woods without a flashlight, like I used to do. But I wasn’t in the same body. My body felt timid, afraid of tripping on a blackberry vine, and heavy. The trees didn’t mind and I kept walking but the progress was very slow and I was hungry and it was very dark. I lost the faith that I used to have. I turned around and went back to her driveway and walked home along the lit gravel road, something I had never done before. A failure of nerve. It was the first time that I felt like the same person, the same spirit or brain, in a different body. The years had passed and I no longer possess the same vehicle of locomotion and ambulation. Who are we in our bodies? Every cell of my body has changed since I was a teenager (or at least that is my rough understanding of the science) and yet I am still me.

Take a walk at night and see if you can find some darkness and trees.

1 thought on “The Self in the Dark”

  1. Marvelous.
    You seem to conjure memories that are closely related to my life…..walking in the dark along Tomales Bay. Difficult for me to describe yet easy to understand your description.


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