It took me a while to get through this issue of Lapham’s Quarterly but was able to do so right as the spring issue arrived.
I was looking forward to reading this issue as night is peaceful, one can reflect and it comes with its own special energy as William Least Moon captures in his quote below. I was hoping for more content on the mysterious power of the night but happily surprised by others that I hadn’t thought of. One of these is the importance of being able to look up at stars and the universe that aren’t drowned out by light pollution. I for one have never seen the Milky Way. I’ve lived in cities all of my life but one thing on the bucket list is to get to one of the darkest parts of the Earth and gaze up at the stars for a few hours.
Here are my favorite quotes:
Such passages evoke the sensation of looking up at the stars at night and experiencing the vastness of the universe, of being made conscious of one’s solitude and one’s insignificance in contract to that immensity – a feeling that, as this issue makes clear, not everyone enjoys. Gazing up at the starry sky can inspire in some a calm reassurance of oneness with the universe, a thrilling confrontation with the most basic existential questions, while in others it can induce an anxiety bordering on vertigo.
Looking up at the stars puts us in our place and forces us to reflect on the most important, philosophical questions. Where are we, why am I here, what is out there, what is this creation and how was it made? We’re so sure of ourselves here on this little rock in an infinite vastness. Our lives are filled with tasks, chasing material items and so on. But when we look up at the stars the big questions suddenly appear.
Beware thoughts that come in the night. They aren’t turned properly; they cone in askew, free of sense and restriction, deriving from the most remote of sources. – William Least Heat-Moon, 1982
The night comes with its own energy and in the silence one begins to think a different thoughts than those which come during the day. I often awake at 3:00 AM and it is at this time my brain has not yet settled into its normal thought patterns and I’m most creative thinking of things I otherwise wouldn’t have thought of. This is very precious to me and one of my favorite times of the day.
The uncertain position we all maintain in life asking when will violence strike, when will devastation occur, leaves us looking like the hapless swimmers at the beginning of each Jaws movie. Innocent, tender and delicious. Our legs tread water, buoyed by all that is right and good and deserved in this world, a house, healthy children, clean food to eat, love. While that animatronic shark, a beast without mercy, catches the scent of blood and locks in on his target. – From “A Love Story.” Samantha Hunt.
We walk in a sense of false security as momentous events can take hundreds or thousands of years to happen. But here we are, on a rock floating in very violent universe that could be destroyed by any passing rock, super nova all while we circle a black hole. The rock called Earth we inhabit is continually changing and shifting on a liquid center that could erupt at any time. We are putting poison into the atmosphere which is changing the climate. But as we do not see these things right in front of us on a day to day or even yearly basis we ignore them. The tsunami in Japan is a good example. The ocean can be incredibly destructive when an earthquake occurs and we are learning in Japan and elsewhere that it is not a good idea to test nature. Or for another example, California builds their homes in extremely fire prone areas, then fire occurs and the whole place burns down. We live in a false sense of security.
Don Quixote fulfilled his obligations to nature by sleeping his first sleep, but not giving way to his second, unlike Sancho, who never had a second sleep, because his sleep lasted from nightfall until morning, proving he had a strong constitution and few cares. – Don Quixote, Miguel de Cervantes
I put this in here not only because Don Quixote is one of my favorite novels but also how he refers to sleep. Before the light was invented people went to bed early because it was dark. This early bedtime meant they would wake up often in the middle of the night, do some things and then have a second sleep. With the invention of artificial light we can now stay up doing things very late into the night which means we only get one sleep. As for me, I go to bed at 8 and thus wake up very early. It is at this time I either decide to get up and do things or just lie there until I fall asleep again.
What are we losing by not being able to see the starry skies? I think it’s difficult to imagine, but I think there are significant consequences. Imagining worlds beyond our own horizon, just that cognitive ability. How do you expect the kids to reach for the stars if they can’t see them? – “Seeing Stars in Dripping Springs,” – Forrest Wilder
I’ve already mentioned this above, but being able to see the stars is extremely important. Unfortunately those of us in cities are no longer able to.
But we are capable of improving ourselves, even in the use of our eyes – we see most when we are most determined to see. The will has a wonderful effect upon the perceptive faculties. – Maria Mitchell from “Observations of this kind are peculiarly adapted to women.”
In point of fact, once or twice, late at night, I peered so lengthily at my reflection that a creepy feeling came over me, and I put out the light in a hurry. Yet next morning , while shaving, it would never occur to me to question the reality of my image – Vladimir Nabokov from “The Terror.”
But even toward nightfall, as soon as the candles are lit, the mind, like the eye, no longer sees things so clearly as by day. It is a time unsuited to serious meditation, especially on unpleasant subjects. The morning is the proper time for that – as indeed for all efforts without exception, whether mental or bodily. For the morning is the youth of the day, when everything is bright, fresh, and easy of attainment. We feel strong then, and all our faculties are completely at our disposal. Do not shorten the morning by getting up late or waste it in unworthy occupations or in talk; look upon it as the quintessence of life. Evening is like old age: we are languid, talkative, silly. Each day is a little life: every waking and rising a little birth, every fresh morning a little youth, every going to rest and sleep a little death. – Arthur Schopenhauer, from Counsels
The early morning is my favorite time of day. It is quiet and I see things clearly as my normal thought patterns have not returned just yet. I am able to get a lot done as the time is free of the distractions that will occur with when the daily routine starts.
In these dreadful wastes of perennial ice and snow, man feels the force of the superstitions of past ages and becomes willingly a worshiper of the eternal luminary. I am certain that if our preparations for greeting the returning sun were seen by other people, either civilized or savage, we would be thought disciples of heliolatry. – Frederike A. Cook from “Through the First Antarctic Night.”
I like this entry as it refers to the old fears which humanity had for millennia about the dark. We’ve forgotten most of these now that artificial light is everywhere. But it is theses old fears that still reside in our subconscious that by sitting next to a fire give us comfort. Why does the fire make us feel this way? It was a source of protection, keeping the terrors of the night at bay.
The British made a striking observation about the bush people: their eyes, wrote one colonist, were “little inferior in optical power to small telescopes.” Another said of them that “the eye operates with a precision and force, which a person who has never witnessed the like would scarcely be disposed to credit… They will often discern with distinctness what others require a telescope to distinguish.” For these native inhabitants with their telescopic vision, the stars were already close. – Holly Haworth – The Fading Stars: A Constellation
I like this as it involves the evolution of humanity. We now spend a lot of our time watching things that are close to us. We no longer need the far sight of a hunter, or of a star gazer. We’ve forgotten what it is like to be able to see as nature had intended.
It is not just the clock or capital that tries to fool us into believing the world has gone topsy-turvy. Electric light does, too, but it never creates a convincing form of daylight: pineal glands are the body’s lie detectors, refusing to believe that the overhead fluorescent of a predawn Walmart is the sun. Night workers are sicker, more depressed, and die earlier and with more stress. – Anne Boyer from “The Fall of Night.”
Artificial light can never take the place of sunlight. Stepping into the sun after months of bad weather is the time this is most realized. It gives us comfort, produces chemical changes in our bodies and makes us feel good. Artificial light is dead and gives us no greater benefits than allowing us to simply see what is in front of us.
Tonight I’ve watched
The moon and then
The night is now
goes; I am
in bed alone – Sappho, A poem, c. 600 BC