All the Dark Places

(Image by Alice Hale Adams)

My pal, Alice, is in Wales to bury her cousin, Katherine Anne, in a country churchyard.  Her cousin loved Wales, loved her Welsh ancestors, and so did her sister, Beverly, who made it to the small churchyard first. Their ashes now lie side by side, and they chat, I like to think, about the summer trips they took each year, the stone abbeys and churches they explored, the archives and libraries they busied themselves in, those long summer days while the sun shone until late in the evening. 

It is a pilgrimage, of course, and Alice does not travel alone.  What pilgrim does? Her grown children are there, and Neffra, who, from her very beginnings, has been more baby sister than first cousin to Alice. 

It is as if Alice is far away and like she is right here.  We have texted and chatted on the phone, although the calls drop in and out.  This first week of their travels they are in a cottage, and it is perfect, right down to the wobbly wi-fi and phone service.  In a place such as this, the south of Wales, so quiet and bucolic, one can be tenderhearted and tolerant about such things. 

Last night Alice sent a message from one of the designated dark places. She said the dark places are for star-gazing, and the street lamps, if there are any, don’t come on all at the same time.  Wales has hundreds of such places it turns out, including parks and reserves set aside just for the sky at night.  The stars.  The wonder of it.

The first time I saw the stars, more than just Orion’s Belt or the faint and blurry dippers, I was sat on a bench in the high desert of New Mexico.  I was visiting family and as the window glowed orange then pink, we trooped outside for the nightly show. The temperature cooled and the stars appeared overhead at just the same speed as the horizon changed from pink to purple to ink. 

I had never seen such stars. Had never felt such coolness on my skin in the middle of summer. We sat without speaking, such a rarity, and some of us smoked our pipes, and some of us sipped our drinks, and some of us did nothing at all but breathe.

As much as I love light, love to think about it, admire it, capture it in pictures—for that is all photography is, capturing light—I long to experience that kind of darkness, too.  Even now, I am afraid of the dark, just a little, and I once had a claustrophobic meltdown in a pitch black cave, but there is something about total darkness, with only the moon and stars for light, that compels me in what must be a primitive impulse.

Light pollution is all around us, and it is hard to find a spot we can get to where it doesn’t exist. The app, Light Pollution Map, will show you everywhere in the world where artificial light brightens the night sky. A quick look and we can identify urban areas, name the cities by the sprawl of illumination radiating from the hub.  

There are some patches of pure dark, too;  over the Atlantic, Greenland, central Africa, Uzbekistan. And I want to see it, total darkness. Turns out, we have such a spot close to us.  Head to the Falls of Rough and find the raggedy shaped diamond of land between Fordsville, Short Creek, Olaton and Horse Branch and there you will find no discernible light pollution. 

For some time I have fancied traveling to dark places and writing about what it is like there. A daytime trip to reconnoiter that little island of dark a couple of counties over might be a good start. Then, when I am feeling brave, a night trip.  Maybe when the time changes. Maybe I’ll bring along provisions.  And a friend, just in case.  Someone to hold my hand in the dark.