A steamy night. A storm roared up through here just as the sun was ready to set, dumped rain in sheets and the wind tore at the house. Knocked the power out. I’m alone in the house. Looking out east toward town there’s not a light anywhere, except a dim distant glow of some safety lights at the plant. It’s dead dark.
And then it isn’t. The clouds have parted. The moon isn’t up yet, but the prairie is bright with starlight. Looking out in the yard, I can see the big branch down on the box elder where my old swing was hung. I can see the lines of the furrows in the field, crystal strands of standing water, reflecting the glow off the clouds, the sky. The shelterbelts at the horizon are like dark hashmarks against the star-splattered sky.
I always loved the prairie in the dark, growing up. Like that moment when we would drive out the lake and we first turned off the headlights of the truck that had lit the dirt track, the stand of box elder where we liked to park, the beam that sometimes skimmed the surface of the lake. When I shut off the truck that world suddenly disappeared, and slowly another one appeared, one in shadows, the world that persisted before, when there was no fire and no electricity and gasoline engines powering lights and fancy electronics. The simpler world.
A few weeks ago the power went out while I was at Sarah’s house. We were in her bedroom, with a low lamp on, and then it went out. We had been talking and suddenly when the light flickered and then went out we went quiet, as if we had needed the light from the lamp to speak and listen. But then the light of the moon filled the room, a deep serene blue. We were there again, but the room was different. We were quiet and you could hear the ran softly falling in the trees out back of the house, the low rumble of the storm as it wandered off to the east. Sarah said, “I love the quiet of rain at night.” And I was happy because it seemed like she knew this, about darkness, about how it blinds you but then opens up the world.
I missed this the short time I was in Chicago. There were so many lights, the sky was orange. There were no stars, just the starlight of lights on poles, lights aimed off buildings, flashing signs. It was as if the people in the city would go to any length to keep the night away. Now if I was awake at night and I couldn’t sleep, I was anxious, instead of listening quietly to the night’s sounds. It was is if, by chasing away the night, they chased away everything from the daylight, too.