Tuesday, June 07, 2016

Twilight thoughts, twilight haints

On a recent visit to my parents in the twice-failed utopia of New Harmony, Indiana, I experienced something I'd not seen for a long time, yet not really realized I'd lost: true, nearly unadulterated shimmery blue-dark summer twilight. "As daylight recedes," A. Roger Ekirch writes in At Day's Close: Night in Times Past,
color drains from the landscape. Thickets grow larger and less distinct, blending into mongrel shades of gray. It is eventide when, say the Irish, a man and a bush look alike, or, more ominously, warns an Italian adage, hounds and wolves. The darkness of night appears palpable. Evening does not arrive, it "thickens."
Winter twilight, Thoreau observes, is white; summer's is a "fading world of slate-blue, smoke, and umber," as Peter Davidson calls it in The Last of the Light: About Twilight.

When in that advancing obscurity, it is best to be with those you know, your family and friends--who, visible and audible near you, help you orient yourself and your ancient fears in that neither dark nor light world. Even more so when that is walk through the streets of New Harmony--streets that have seen some of the most unusual history in all of America ("Almost every citizen is aware of New Harmony's strangeness," wrote Marguerite Young in 1945). It's not a place of violent death or dark secrets, but any community with a history of enforced celibacy and religious fervor can't help but generate some residual shivers when the darkness begins to rise and spread from the surrounding fields.

All of that perhaps primed me for my encounter with the following account of a creepy twilight experience related by Harold Owen, brother of the famous war poet Wilfred Owen, in his 1963 memoir, Journey from Obscurity, which Peter Davidson shares in The Last of the Light.


Doesn't that have everything one wants in a creepy twilight story? Inexplicable sights and movements, a feeling of another world encroaching inexorably on our own, the recourse to companionship as the only solace. Wonderful.

For all but the most recent era of human history, "daily experience," Davidson writes, "would have included the slow fall of the light, an awareness of the slow process of twilight." We've all but lost what Nabokov (via Davidson) called the "gradual and dual blue" which "At night unites the viewer with the view."

I am a morning person, at my best in the gentle yet vigorous light of the earliest summer hours. But I see the value of twilight, and I can't argue with Thoreau:
For what a man does abroad by night requires and implies more deliberate energy than what he is encouraged to do in the sunshine. He is more spiritual, less animal or vegetable, in the former case.
Hie thee to your campsites and fields and wildest parks sometime this summer, folks. Watch the buzzing dragonflies at dinner give way to the dramatic swirl of the swallows, then the awkward swoop-drop-recovery of the bats, and the sleek stealth of the nighthawk. Watch the light fade, and see what it reveals.

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