Friday, December 29, 2017

Ursula Leguin and "the realists of a larger reality"

 "I think hard times are coming when we will be wanting the voices of writers who can see alternatives to how we live now and can see through our fear-stricken society and its obsessive technologies to other ways of being, and even imagine some real grounds for hope. We will need writers who can remember freedom. Poets, visionaries — the realists of a larger reality. "
  As she has been for so many years, Ursula Leguin speaks once more to the core for me.   I've visited numerous times every world she has shown us, and one thing she has always shown are  the infinite possibilities of the imagination and human culture, brilliantly reasoned out through the eyes of the anthropologist's daughter that she also is.

I have travelled with her through worlds of vast introverted solitude, where a young girl must be alone  to "make her soul" in "The Birthday of the World" collection.  I've visited a world in the midst of an Ice Age, and come to love a pragmatic  hero who is also a hermaphrodite, neither male nor female on a world without gender, in "The Left Hand of Darkness".  I've visited Earthsea many times, and watched the coming of age of the mage Ged, who can talk with dragons, and  must learn not only about power, but far  more importantly, he must learn about the uses of power, about maintaining the Equilibrium, becoming attuned to the balance of the world.  And in "Four Ways to Forgiveness" I've seen two worlds come apart and re-form as millenias of slavery is ended, and former slaves and owners must also  find their personal salvation in the midst of a vast human revolution.  In "May's Lion" I  saw the visit of a lion, coming to the home of an old woman in order to die, from the perspective of not only an old American woman, but an old Native woman who knew  that she had been honored, because he came to her to open that way.

 Thank you, Ursula, thank you for making it possible for me to visit those worlds, to escape my own when I needed to, to see with your words the infinate possibilities of  human experience. Her "view from the Ecumen" has helped me time and again to gain a view of life here on Earth.  

I still find it hard to write myself, so I will share her 2014  National Book Awards speech again.  It is a call to artists as well as writers, and I felt, on the precipice of a new year, it is relevant even more.  She says what I have so many times thought, especially recently - how "money sick" everything has become. We have lost the Equilibrium of consciousness of the whole, of a "webbed visions".  May this year coming be the seed of a turning of the way.

"But the name of the beautiful reward", Leguin says, "is not profit.  Its name is freedom."   The freedom to create uncensored, internally or externally,  by the demand that what is created somehow be justified, it's "value" determined,  by how much money "it" can make.

Which is no "real" evaluation of success at all, any more than the "success" of corporations has anything to do with preserving our planet's future or quality of life for us.   Capitalism  has become an oppressive force indeed, a force that can literally destroy the world it it's souless quest for profit.  We need to put money "values" outside the door when we enter the house of  creative integrity - otherwise it's like a loud cacophony of endless commercials, nattering away, obstructing any capacity to hear, see, know, be "en-souled".

My house, of course, is full of art, 45 years of it, and being an AIRBNB host, I"m always amazed at how very rare it is for those who come here to comment or acknowledge it.  I've often said to myself that I could hang mops on the walls for all most people would be aware of the art.......which belongs, perhaps, to another conversation. To keep myself from feeling defensive about being an artist, I almost never attempt any longer to talk to my guests about my "other life" as an if being an artist was never a "real job".  Ah..........But when young artists come to my home, I find I'm disappointed  for another reason.  Which is how rarely any of them ask about the work - what it means, what  it derives from, even just how I made it.  I find most of them ask about shows, ways to promote work, what kind of prices I get....... how, in other words, did I make money from my work and can I help them to do so.  I've never said this out loud, but so very few seem to see that artwork is a Conversation, one I so often wish I could share with others.   Paintings are doors into some other dimension, windows into story.   In the babble and preoccupation with money,  so many voices are never  heard.

What wealth, if money was left outside the door like our shoes so as not to soil the space........what wealth might be found in the creative language being spoken on the walls or streets  of many places, what dialogues might be shared about the  impulses from which they sprang?

In accepting the Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters at the 2014  National Book Awards, eminent  writer Ursula Le Guin made a knock-out speech about the power of capitalism, literature and imagination that, as she put it afterwards, “went sort-of viral on YouTube.”


I rejoice at accepting it for, and sharing it with, all the writers who were excluded from literature for so long, my fellow authors of fantasy and science fiction—writers of the imagination, who for the last 50 years watched the beautiful rewards go to the so-called realists.

I think hard times are coming when we will be wanting the voices of writers who can see alternatives to how we live now and can see through our fear-stricken society and its obsessive technologies to other ways of being, and even imagine some real grounds for hope. We will need writers who can remember freedom. Poets, visionaries—the realists of a larger reality.

Right now, I think we need writers who know the difference between the production of a market commodity and the practice of an art. Developing written material to suit sales strategies in order to maximize corporate profit and advertising revenue is not quite the same thing as responsible book publishing or authorship. (Thank you, brave applauders.)

Yet I see sales departments given control over editorial; I see my own publishers in a silly panic of ignorance and greed, charging public libraries for an ebook six or seven times more than they charge customers. We just saw a profiteer try to punish a publisher for disobedience and writers threatened by corporate fatwa, and I see a lot of us, the producers who write the books, and make the books, accepting this. Letting commodity profiteers sell us like deodorant, and tell us what to publish and what to write. (Well, I love you too, darling.)

Books, you know, they’re not just commodities. The profit motive often is in conflict with the aims of art. We live in capitalism. Its power seems inescapable. So did the divine right of kings. Any human power can be resisted and changed by human beings. Resistance and change often begin in art, and very often in our art—the art of words.

I have had a long career and a good one. In good company. Now here, at the end of it, I really don’t want to watch American literature get sold down the river. We who live by writing and publishing want—and should demand—our fair share of the proceeds. But the name of our beautiful reward is not profit. Its name is freedom.

Monday, December 25, 2017

The Songs of Trees: David Haskell

"I, the Song, I walk here."
..........Native American poem

I wanted to reprint this article from by Maria speaks so beautifully to what we need to truly understand about being "within the Body of Gaia"..........

The Songs of Trees: A Biologist’s Lyrical Ode to How Relationships Weave the Fabric of Life

For biologist David George Haskell, the notion of listening to trees is neither metaphysical abstraction nor mere metaphor.
In The Songs of Trees: Stories from Nature’s Great Connectors (public library), Haskell proves himself to be the rare kind of scientist Rachel Carson was when long ago she pioneered a new cultural aesthetic of poetic prose about science, governed by her conviction that “there can be no separate literature of science”because “the aim of science is to discover and illuminate truth,” which is also the aim of literature.
It is in such lyrical prose and with an almost spiritual reverence for trees that Haskell illuminates his subject — the masterful, magical way in which nature weaves the warp thread of individual organisms and the weft thread of relationships into the fabric of life.
Illustration by Arthur Rackham for a rare 1917 edition of the Brothers Grimm fairy tales.
Haskell writes:
For the Homeric Greeks, kleos, fame, was made of song. Vibrations in air contained the measure and memory of a person’s life.  To listen was therefore to learn what endures.
I turned my ear to trees, seeking ecological kleos. I found no heroes, no individuals around whom history pivots. Instead, living memories of trees, manifest in their songs, tell of life’s community, a net of relations. We humans belong within this conversation, as blood kin and incarnate members. To listen is therefore to hear our voices and those of our family.
To listen is therefore to touch a stethoscope to the skin of a landscape, to hear what stirs below.

Photographs from Cedric Pollet’s project Bark: An Intimate Look at the World’s Trees.
Haskell visits a dozen gloriously different trees from around the world — from the hazel of Scotland to the redwoods of Colorado to the white pine of Japan’s Miyajima Island — to wrest from them wisdom on what he calls “ecological aesthetics,” a view of beauty not as an individual property but as a relational feature of the web of life, belonging to us as we to it. (Little wonder that trees are our mightiest metaphor for the cycle of life.) From this recognition of delicate mutuality arises a larger belonging, which cannot but inspire a profound sense of ecological responsibility.
Haskell writes:
We’re all — trees, humans, insects, birds, bacteria — pluralities. Life is embodied network. These living networks are not places of omnibenevolent Oneness. Instead, they are where ecological and evolutionary tensions between cooperation and conflict are negotiated and resolved. These struggles often result not in the evolution of stronger, more disconnected selves but in the dissolution of the self into relationship.
Because life is network, there is no “nature” or “environment,” separate and apart from humans. We are part of the community of life, composed of relationships with “others,” so the human/nature duality that lives near the heart of many philosophies is, from a biological perspective, illusory. We are not, in the words of the folk hymn, wayfaring strangers traveling through this world. Nor are we the estranged creatures of Wordsworth’s lyrical ballads, fallen out of Nature into a “stagnant pool” of artifice where we misshape “the beauteous forms of things.” Our bodies and minds, our “Science and Art,” are as natural and wild as they ever were.
We cannot step outside life’s songs. This music made us; it is our nature.
Our ethic must therefore be one of belonging, an imperative made all the more urgent by the many ways that human actions are fraying, rewiring, and severing biological networks worldwide. To listen to trees, nature’s great connectors, is therefore to learn how to inhabit the relationships that give life its source, substance, and beauty.
Art by Cécile Gambini from Strange Trees by Bernadette Pourquié, an illustrated atlas of the world’s arboreal wonders.
Haskell follows the thread of relationship to the lushest arboreal habitat in the world — a symphonic sixteen-thousand-square-kilometer expanse of Amazonian rainforest in a wildlife and ethnic reserve in Ecuador, where a single hectare contains more tree species than the whole of North America. He limns this otherworldly wonderland, transliterating its peculiar language:
Amazonian rain differs not just in the volume of what it has to tell — three and a half meters dropped every year, six times gray London’s count — but in its vocabulary and syntax. Invisible spores and plant chemicals mist the air above the forest canopy. These aerosols are the seeds onto which water vapor coalesces, then swells. Every teaspoon of air here has a thousand or more of these particles, a haze ten times less dense than air away from the Amazon. Wherever people aggregate in significant numbers, we loose to the sky billions of particles from engines and chimneys. Like birds in a dust bath, the vigorous flapping of our industrial lives raises a fog. Each fleck of pollution, dusty mote of soil, or spore from a woodland is a potential raindrop. The Amazon forest is vast, and over much of its extent the air is mostly a product of the forest, not the activities of industrious birds. Winds sometimes bring pulses of dust from Africa or smog from a city, but mostly the Amazon speaks its own tongue. With fewer seeds and abundant water vapor, raindrops bloat to exceptional sizes. The rain falls in big syllables, phonemes unlike the clipped rain speech of most other landmasses.
We hear the rain not through silent falling water but in the many translations delivered by objects that the rain encounters. Like any language, especially one with so much to pour out and so many waiting interpreters, the sky’s linguistic foundations are expressed in an exuberance of form: downpours turn tin roofs into sheets of screaming vibration; rain smatters onto the wings of hundreds of bats, each drop shattering, then falling into the river below the bats’ skimming flight; heavy-misted clouds sag into treetops and dampen leaves without a drop falling, their touch producing the sound of an inked brush on a page.
Art by Alessandro Sanna from Pinocchio: The Origin Story
The tree itself stands as an acoustic microcosm of the rainforest:
In the ceibo’s crown, botanical acoustic diversity is present, but it is more subtle. Drops are smaller and create a sound like river rapids in the leaves of the many surrounding trees, obscuring variations in the sounds of individual leaves. Because I’m standing high up in the branches of an emergent tree, a tree that arches over all others, the sound of the river rapids comes from beneath my feet. I feel inverted, like an image in a teardrop, disoriented by hearing forest rain under my soles. My ascent, up a forty-meter series of metal ladders, has carried me through the rain layers: The sounds of rain on litter and understory plants fade a meter or two above the ground, replaced by the spare, irregular spat of drops on sparse leaves, stems reaching up to the light, and roots drilling down. At twenty meters up, the foliage thickens and the rapids begin. As I climb higher, the sounds of individual trees push forward, then recede, first a speed-typist’s clatter from a strangler fig, then rasping drops glancing across hirsute vine leaves. I top the rapids’ surface and the roar moves below me, unveiling patters on fleshy orchid leaves, greasy impacts on bromeliads, and low clacks on the elephant ears of Philodendron. Every tree surface is crowded with greenery; hundreds of plant species inhabit the ceibo’s crown.
In the ceibo Haskell finds a living testament to the nonexistence of the self to which we humans so habitually cling. A century after young Jorge Luis Borges contemplated how the self dissolves in time and relationship, Haskell writes:
This dissolution of individuality into relationship is how the ceibo and all its community survive the rigors of the forest. Where the art of war is so supremely well developed, survival paradoxically involves surrender, giving up the self in a union with allies.
The forest is not a collection of entities… it is a place entirely made from strands of relationship.
The Songs of Trees is a resplendent read in its entirety, kindred to both Walt Whitman’s exultation of trees and bryologist Robin Wall Kimmerer’s poetic celebration of moss. Complement it with the fascinating science of what trees feel and how they communicate, then revisit my eulogy for a beloved tree and this illustrated atlas of the world’s most unusual trees.

From the weekly digest of by Maria Popova. Check out her special edition celebrating 11 years of Brain Pickings  here. And if you'd like to support her wonderful newsletter, please consider making  a donation.

Friday, December 22, 2017

Ritual of Endarkenment

This  painting says "past desire, ambition or grief, I rest in You,  a seed.
"You" means the Earth, and this was one of my  "incubation" paintings.   The Meditation/Ritual below is something I wrote and included in a performance in 2002, the "Ritual of Endarkenment".  In our driven, technological, left-brain, materialistic world, we place an emphasis on "Enlightenment".  Here is a reflection I wrote a long time ago, a descent into what the poet David Whyte called "Sweet Darkness".

The sleeping figure is entwined with all other life, and a shaft of water, or perhaps light, nourishes the dreaming figure that waits for the season of new beginnings.  How did we ever come to conceive of ourselves as apart from the cycles of nature and time  that all other living beings experience?  Perhaps that was the true Original Sin, when the patriarchs began to invent religions and philosophies that made us "apart" from the cyclical, magical animals we are, among so many other kinds of magical animal beings.  Yes, I think that is what "sin" means to me.


Close your eyes, and see  a cord
a shining umbilical cord at your naval
that goes down,

into the dreaming Earth.

Into the darkness, the silence, follow,
that luminous cord,

As you descend into the warm darkness
remove your garments
remove, one by one
remove your masks.

One by one, take them off
feel the heavy weight of each as
you let it fall, as you descend.
Let each mask fall away, but
take a moment to see it before it falls
into the Earth, into the darkness.

Take off the mask of competence,
the mask of your accomplishments.
what does that mask look like?

Take  off the child's mask,  the little one
laughing with delight, the child crying helplessly in an empty room.
Take it off  with tenderness.

The masks of relationship, the masks you wear with others,
the mask of the lover, the mate, the parent,
the mask of conflict, the mask of the warrior,
the mask of affiliation, of responsibility, of duty:
take each one off, hold it in your hand, let it go,
into the darkness, see them fall,
the question "who am I?"
falling like a feather with them.

And take off the mask of your age
the accumulated years that whisper
I'm just a kid, I'm middle aged, I'm old, I must, I can't,
I will I should it's too late, I can't.........
take them all off, let go, feel the weight leave you.

The masks of your parents that you also learned to wear,
their fears and dreams in the shape of your face,
 remove them with respect and pity, and descend

to the last masks, the shadow masks

the masks you do not look at, but cling to,
see them in your hands -  and let them go,
into the darkness, into the dreaming Earth.

Rest, and  wait.
Ask  for the dreams
the unborn ones

that wait to be born in you
empty and held in the womb of the Earth
invite them to come, in time to come,
the guidance and inspiration that will infuse your new year.

Make that prayer  into the darkness,
feel it like a pulse among roots, that deep umbilical
holding you safe.  Rest, and  know you are loved,
held, a seed, a child, a hope, a potential.

Begin to ascend at last.
As you rise, see the masks you've discarded -
one by one, take them in your hands.
Perhaps some you no longer need;
some you will examine more closely in the future.
Perhaps some you will discard, and
some you will wear more lightly.  Feel their weight.

And as you emerge from the earth
into the sunlit world, feel that unbroken cord, shining,
unseen, holding  you to your origin. 

To the Source.
 Always, always generous.


Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Winter Solstice

I pledge allegiance
to the soil of Turtle Island,
and to the beings
who thereon dwell
one ecosystem in diversity
under the sun
With joyful
interpenetration for all.

Gary Snyder

I was trying to put the picture above where it is, and I noticed that it had copied twice.  I was just about to delete the second photo, when I realized that it formed a circle - half of the circle going into the shadow, or "underground".  A perfect symbol for what I think the emergent paradigm must be.   Integral.  Light and Shadow.  A Circle. 

Then I realized that the circle extended on either side of the "picture plane" into the rainbow, it forms another Circle, perhaps invisible to the viewer, but existing in some other dimension of time and space.  In my experience, Spider Woman,  Midwife for the "5th World" which has just begun according to the Hopi,   speaks to us  in metaphors and in synchronicities when she casts her threads.  Especially on the  numinous day of the Solstice.
 "In America, we have mixed bloodlines, "rainbow blood".  I've always conceived of the Rainbow as actually being a circle. Half of the rainbow disappears into the ground, into an underworld realm, where it exists beneath the Earth, hidden, but present.  Perhaps, what we're given now is the means to seed a rainbow vision.
           Christy Salo


In the ritual work I've done in the past, we honor the 5th, and last, element, which is white, the element of aether, the element that unites and unifies all the other elements. The "warp and weft" underneath, the loom.   The 5th world, it seems to me,  is about the revelation of Unity as the underlying truth of the cosmos, the ecology of our planetary body, our Mother Earth,  and of our human lives. 

Spider Woman's revelation,  I believe, is to be found in the traditional Lakota prayer  "Mitakuye Oyasin" (All Are Related).

 Years ago I was enjoying a panoramic view of the Sonoran desert.   I happened to be sitting near a spider web, stretched between two dry branches.  I realized, by shifting my point of view, I could view the entire landscape through the web’s intricate, transparent pattern…..a  landscape  seen through the ineffable strands of an almost invisible web. A Webbed Vision.  Mitakuye Oyasin.

In Pueblo mythology Spider Woman is also called Tse Che Nako, Thought Woman. Thought Woman creates the world with what she imagines, with the stories she tells.  We also participate in this imaginal perhaps now, at the Return of the Light, the time is good  to become 
conscious weavers  of the stories we tell  about ourselves and our world.  

From "Woven", Solstice Community Dance Performance by Zuzi Dance Theatre

Are we truly alone, doomd to ever be little warring tribes, or "staunch individualists"  in constant conflict with each other for resources, power, or because "my god is better than your god"?  Is this really  "human nature"?  Are there other models or options?  Another lens from which to view the evolution of humanity?  Because, if you think about it, a civilization is not the wars of destruction of conquerors, but a vast consensus of collaboration and shared creativity.  The farmers, builders, artists, crafts people, midwives, bakers, teachers........that is what a civilization really is.  

Are we now consigned to be  alienated individuals living in an urban jungle, with cynicism as the only appropriate response?  Am I victim, weak, powerless, needing to cling to destructive relationships or circumstances because  I have no other choice? Or are there other options  for the stories we  weave our lives with, the stories that we  pollinate the future with?

"The question is not so much "What do I learn from stories" as
 "What stories do I want to live?"  
David R. Loy, "The World is Made of Stories"

Navajo rugs often have “Spiderwoman’s Cross” woven into the pattern.  The cross of Spider Woman represents balance - the union of the 4 directions.  Spider Woman is at the Center: the  5th Element. As anthropologist Carol Patterson-Rudolph has written, to the Navajo,  Spider Woman ((NA ASHJE’II ’ASDZÁÁ) represents initiation into a mature way of being. Without the necessary maturity, she's not seen, she appears only as a small, insignificant insect.  But to the initiated, the "Web" becomes visible within an ever expanding relational paradigm.   Spider Woman thus is a bridge between the mundane, mythic, and sacred dimensions of life.  Like a spider web, her transparent, circular strands exist on multiple levels of meaning and perception.  In his book on Hopi religion, John Loftin writes":
“Spider Woman was the first to weave. Her techniques and patterns have stood the test of time, or more properly, the test of timelessness.…..…..Weaving is not an act in which one creates something oneself – it is an act in which one uncovers a pattern that was already there.”
  Among the Dine`, weaving is viewed as a spiritual practice, a sacred art.  Many rugs are left with a small flaw, to "honor Spider Woman", the only weaver whose work is can be perfect.  And to this day, a bit of spider web is rubbed into the hands of female infants, so they will become "good weavers".

If indeed the 4th age has ended, and we are now  in the beginning of the 5th Age, in spite of the fear and chaos and corruption, the backlash and anger,  we are seeing, I believe it is so very important to find ways, now,  to "tell the new stories".   We must carry the hope and the means for others to experience a "Webbed Vision" of interdependancy and belonging.  A Webbed Vision of  humanity in all of its diversity, strife, creativity, challenge  and history (which must now include her-story as well) part of a larger whole.  Time to weave a new Web.   What good is despair?  The work is ahead of us, the dawn comes.  

May we all rub a bit of Spider Web into the palms of our hands.

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Woven - 20th Annual Solstice Celebration at Zuzi's

Woven - 20th Annual Solstice Celebration @ ZUZI Dance, Tucson [from 16 to 20 December]
"The art of weaving is a profound metaphor for understanding the workings of the universe and our place in it. Through the physical process of weaving, we gain a better understanding of this world and how we as human beings are woven into it. We are bound to our bodies with the fragile threads of earth. Our skeleton is a loom on which every system is strung and woven. The meeting of opposite elements woven into a whole is the quest of many seekers to find meaning in their life. The art of weaving is the essential art of creating the unified one of two opposites. Archaeological findings suggest that weaving is at least 20,000 years old, but because weavings are so organic and biodegradable, no physical evidence this old has been obtained. In this Solstice celebration we envision honoring the interconnectedness of our humanity as we move forward with the return of the sun."

Woven - 20th Annual Solstice Celebration

14:00 - 22:30


Map data ©2017 Google

ZUZI Dance
738 N 5th Ave,
Tucson, Arizona 85705

As the shortest day of the year, the winter Solstice marks the turning from the cold, dark days of winter to the warmer, lighter days of spring and summer. Historically, this season is a time of reflection, renewal, and community celebration. ZUZI! Dance production and local dancers, aerialists, musicians, and from the Tucson performing arts community and the weaving community will host this show. This collaborative effort highlights the elemental qualities of weaving.

“Woven” is directed/choreographed by Nanette Robinson, with special guest artist and choreographer Mirela Roza and Navajo weaver Marlow Kutoni. During the performance there will be lobby demonstrations by Tucson Handweavers and Spinners Guild.

In addition to the dancers in the cast, ZUZI! Dance holds a youth aerial workshop and a community workshop that are open to anyone to learn a piece of choreography to perform in the show. This year woven into the the community piece is the newly formed dance company, Dansequence, Karenne Koo, Director. These Solstice Community Workshops have been a long-standing tradition for ZUZI! to create a space and opportunity for people of all ages and abilities to work, move, learn and grow together. 

Participants have ranged in age from 7 to 72. This multi-generational approach to dance is rooted in ZUZI!’s belief that individual perspectives shared and shaped with others creates a healthy community. We will be hosting a gallery fiber arts display from local and regional weavers that will be on sale. A portion of proceeds from sales will go to ZUZI! Dance. 

ZUZI! will be accepting donations for Sister Joses Homeless Shelter for Women of sweaters, scarves, socks, hats, gloves. Bring a donation and you will receive a $2 discount for show.

Friday, December 8, 2017

Bring On the Dark: Why We Need the Winter Solstice

"We’ve rolled back the night so far that soon we will come full circle and reach the dawn of the following day. And where will that leave us? In a world with no God and no wolf either — only unrelenting commerce and consumption, information and media ... and light. We need a rest from ourselves that only a night like the winter solstice can give us."

I remember a winter night many years ago, when I lived in the country in upstate N.Y..   I shared a house with a second story living room that had a big picture window,  A  mid-winter snowstorm had left us stranded in a shimmering blanket of snow.  One could look out on that field of white, illuminated by the dark sky, the moon, and an occasional star,  into a vast,  dark silence.   For a while the lights went out, but we had no shortage of candles, and somehow that makes the memory even sweeter for me.  The intensity of the dark and the silence the snow that long ago December was not frightening, but intimate,  a landscape for sleep, for the incubation of dreams, a place to heal from the frenzy of achievement and obligation, a darkness ripe with dormant life.  A place where we could lie together in the warmth of our bed, becoming aware of  the occasional sound of snowfall, or an animal moving outside. 

I remember recently seeing a time lapse film of cities - vast networks of light, sky scrapers and traffic rushing along freeways like blood coursing along arteries, and I was struck by how much it looked like some kind of organism frenetically pulsing and extruding itself and consuming everything around it.  The truth is, it had a terrible beauty - the shimmering, glittering urban  triumph of humanity over nature, over the darkness.  Or is it?   In the years since, I have so often thought of those winter nights.

I  take the liberty of reprinting here a wonderful article by Clark Strand, whose book is well worth reading.  He has had such nights too, of that I'm sure.  


December 19, 2014

WOODSTOCK, N.Y. — WHEN the people of this small mountain town got their first dose of electrical lighting in late 1924, they were appalled. “Old people swore that reading or living by so fierce a light was impossible,” wrote the local historian Alf Evers. That much light invited comparisons. It was an advertisement for the new, the rich and the beautiful — a verdict against the old, the ordinary and the poor. As Christmas approached, a protest was staged on the village green to decry the evils of modern light.

Woodstock has always been a small place with a big mouth where cultural issues are concerned. But in this case the protest didn’t amount to much. Here as elsewhere in early 20th-century America, the reluctance to embrace brighter nights was a brief and halfhearted affair.

Tomorrow is the winter solstice, the longest night of the year. But few of us will turn off the lights long enough to notice. There’s no getting away from the light. There are fluorescent lights and halogen lights, stadium lights, streetlights, stoplights, headlights and billboard lights. There are night lights to stand sentinel in hallways, and the lit screens of cellphones to feed our addiction to information, even in the middle of the night. No wonder we have trouble sleeping. The lights are always on.

In the modern world, petroleum may drive our engines but our consciousness is driven by light. And what it drives us to is excess, in every imaginable form.

Beginning in the late 19th century, the availability of cheap, effective lighting extended the range of waking human consciousness, effectively adding more hours onto the day — for work, for entertainment, for discovery, for consumption; for every activity except sleep, that nightly act of renunciation. Darkness was the only power that has ever put the human agenda on hold.

In centuries past, the hours of darkness were a time when no productive work could be done. Which is to say, at night the human impulse to remake the world in our own image — so that it served us, so that we could almost believe the world and its resources existed for us alone — was suspended. The night was the natural corrective to that most persistent of all illusions: that human progress is the reason for the world.

Advances in science, industry, medicine and nearly every other area of human enterprise resulted from the influx of light. The only casualty was darkness, a thing of seemingly little value. But that was only because we had forgotten what darkness was for. In times past people took to their beds at nightfall, but not merely to sleep. They touched one another, told stories and, with so much night to work with, woke in the middle of it to a darkness so luxurious it teased visions from the mind and divine visitations that helped to guide their course through life. Now that deeper darkness has turned against us. The hour of the wolf we call it — that predatory insomnia that makes billions for big pharma. It was once the hour of God.

There is, of course, no need to fear the dark, much less prevail over it. Not that we could. Look up in the sky on a starry night, if you can still find one, and you will see that there is a lot of darkness in the universe. There is so much of it, in fact, that it simply has to be the foundation of all that is. The stars are an anomaly in the face of it, the planets an accident. Is it evil or indifferent? I don’t think so. Our lives begin in the womb and end in the tomb. It’s dark on either side.

We’ve rolled back the night so far that soon we will come full circle and reach the dawn of the following day. And where will that leave us? In a world with no God and no wolf either — only unrelenting commerce and consumption, information and media ... and light. We need a rest from ourselves that only a night like the winter solstice can give us. And the earth, too, needs that rest. The only thing I can hope for is that, if we won’t come to our senses and search for the darkness, on nights like these, the darkness will come looking for us.