I’m told the Eskimos have something like thirty-seven words for snow, and in the last eighteen months of walking with Gandalf I have come to realize that likewise there should be many more words for darkness. In our culture we only quantify not-light as “dark” or “dusk” but it is my theory that dark is actually more complex and therefore requires a more expansive vocabulary.
This is what I am talking about:
Semi-Dark (not quite light).
Kind of Dark (you could still see a white cat).
Almost Dark (in between dark and dusk).
Very Dark (can barely see a white cat).
Really Dark (white cat invisible).
Star-Dark (when the sky is so full of stars you are sure you could read by them but really you still need your flashlight. See above photo).
Snow-Dark (this is one of my favorite times to be outside….snow on the ground, low, thick clouds and porch and street lights reflect a hundred-fold off all the white. This creates a softly bright, slightly golden glow, by which you could read).
Freakin’ Dark and Holy-Cats-I-Can’t-See-My-Hands-Dark. (self-explanatory). These are quite similar and having two separate descriptors may be purely academic.
Gandalf is not fazed by any of this. I think his nose and ears shed their own “light” and he skips out the door with the same abandon regardless of the visibility. One night when it was Really Dark I heard an animal noise outside and when I let him out he charged through the doorway, did a Superman leap off the porch and his furry little behind disappeared from view. He trotted back a few minutes later with a satisfied look on his face and the rest of the night was quiet.
Since I lack Gandalf’s visual and auditory acuity I am quite happy to have my headlamp to light my way; I do not care for what I term “the Braille method” of getting around when I can’t see. This involves “reading” the terrain with my feet and way back in the heavy-flashlight-only olden days this was the technique that served me well until one night I misjudged a shadow and fell into a hole. For a long while after that I quit running at night but took it up again once headlamps became lighter and more affordable. And of course now, I have Gandalf the Fearless to share my jaunts.
On walks when it is Freakin’ Dark I rely on him for what is outside my vision and hearing and there have been times when he stops, looks into the black and gives a low growl. It is at this point that I immediately change tack and our route takes the opposite direction. Adding to the list of Questions For God After I Die are “What is out there and how does Gandalf know?” With my feeble human senses I have to wait until daylight….and there it is….a fresh pile of moose poo. Gandalf rocks!
Sometimes I wonder if he is pulling a “Far Side” on me. Remember the Gary Larson cartoon with the two dogs plotting to look at the closet door and growl in unison, just to shake up the humans sitting comfortably on the couch? Nah….he wouldn’t……would he?
Not-light has its own beauty and the paradox and contrast it provides adds richness and depth to my life. Metaphorically and literally, I have been in much darkness in recent years and have learned new appreciation for the interconnectedness of these seemingly contrary concepts.
Sarah took this photo of Michael this winter; the perfect analogy: without darkness we could not appreciate the light.