If you ever get a chance to visit Chaco Canyon National Monument in New Mexico, you should take the time to just stand in the desert and listen. The silence in this place is physical; you can feel it surround you. This is a silence with depth and layers that are unbroken even by the wind, which moves through emptiness and speaks only in occasional sighs through the canyons. The air itself is very clear—the lack of humidity gives the cliffs and buttes sharp lines, and the colors of the earth, though muted, stand in stark relief to the blueness of the sky. Night comes gradually to this place. The height and dryness of the air allows the stars to appear before the sun has set—creating an odd contrast of light and darkness in which night is falling on one horizon while the sun reddens the other. Standing on the cliff tops you can see the sky deepen from blue to black. At night the only lights come from the stars and moon, and the faint smear of light that is the city of Albuquerque, fifty miles away. This small blemish on the horizon haunts my memory in some ways, like an eyelash in the eye, because I know that twenty years ago the night was perfectly dark.
In his book Cosmos, Carl Sagan quotes two amateur astronomers as saying, “We have loved the stars too fondly to be fearful of the night.” But my question is, if we do not fear the darkness, why do we constantly seek to keep it at bay with our streetlights and floodlamps? Emerson declares that if man would be alone, let him look at the stars. With the defeat of the night, we have also blocked out the stars. Do we fear isolation? Or is it the undeniable presence of uncontrollable forces or of decay that is present and necessary to na...
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... presence, and darkness is always present. We have created an isolation that leads us to fear the world that created us. Are we hopeless? I hope not, because the intellect and creativity and ingenuity of the human mind are beautiful things. I am not saying we should chuck it all and go back to nature. The natural world is a harsh, brutal and impartial place, and we as sentient beings could not fit in. Rather, I argue that “development” and “progress” should be holistic, an improvement of the mind and soul as well as the body. Thoreau once said that in wilderness can be found the salvation of the world. It forces us to turn outside of ourselves and seek a social consciousness that extends beyond “individual rights” to human rights, and a greater reconciliation with the world around us. Perhaps then we can accept the darkness, because we will no longer fear the night.
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