learning to see in the dark

for my mother, on her birthday

23 or 25 or 28 years ago,
it doesn’t really matter how many,
you walked alongside me through a darkened campground
Maybe Izaak was on the other side of you
it would have been sometime in summer
when the nearness of the solstice lent the darkness
a luminous quality

bearing the flashlight,
giddy with possession and responsibility,
i swung it diligently back and forth,
sending the beam into the underbrush, and down the road
nervously watching the illuminated ground for signs
of bears

You knelt beside me
and you told me to turn off the light
I refused
and you told me something revelatory

If you give your eyes a chance
they will learn to see in the dark

and so we clicked it off
and I huddled close to your leg
and the world pressed in
utterly impenetrable to my eyes
you said
listen to the night

and while i listened
the world emerged from the blackness
above us, the canopy of evergreen silhouettes gave a shape to the sky
stars became visible
campfires through the woods flickered into my vision
the campground road, solid and grey beneath my shoes, became seen.

2 months ago, walking alone to a forest service pit toilet,
deep in the Colorado Rockies
i remembered what you told me
and switched off my headlamp
made myself stand still, listen to the night
somewhere nearby, my own child was sitting with his father,
enthralled by campfire, nodding off to sleep
as the stars emerged for my wondering eyes
and the outlines of the evergreens gave shape to the sky above,
i realized I had become the mother in the campground
turning off the flashlight
full of the knowledge
that it was possible to see in the dark
more than that:
that it was possible to BE in the dark,
temporarily at the mercy of all i feared
and that if i faced that fear,
new and wondrous things would become available to me.

i felt the gravel road beneath the bones of my feet
felt the august sky, scattered with stars, yawning overhead
and gratitude welled up
and spilled into the visible darkness



Filed under memory, Mothers, outside

6 responses to “learning to see in the dark

  1. i love how walking in the dark opens up your periphery vision. you see so much more without that lamp making only a tiny circle of seeing. in other words, this poem makes me think of wonderful things. loveyou.

  2. Merala

    love this Sarah…a beautiful tribute.

  3. Thank you. So much dear Sarah. Some of the dearest memories I have of being a mama of children, betwixt the giving birth and the letting go as each of you moved out into a world of your own, was our camping trips, our travels. Your posting tonight is an incredibly precious gift to me. I can still remember that turning off of the light. I can still remember you and I looking up at the treetops stark against the starry night sky. And that pause. That long pause, huddled up close together. The waiting as the dark become okay. And now, as you said, you’re the mama in the campground. The stars still spin in their heavens, ready to light the night when you pass on that tale to your boy. Your relating this to me is a most precious gift. Thank you.

  4. sarahalisabethfox

    Sweet Merala and Dearest MK… thanks for your notes. Love you both dearly. And Mama-san… these are my favorite memories too. Something incredibly satisfying about knowing they are reborn everytime we revisit them… esp as you and Dad set back out into the wilderness just the two of you, as it was in the beginning, and your own kids rediscover the out of doors on their own terms… and share it with the next generation. xo

  5. Your ability to read the stars in the night sky depends on your being able to recognize and then identify the constellations. These groupings of stars from a particular region of the sky form a pattern that ancient civilizations named for people, objects or animals. Some constellations look like the object or figures they gained their name from, while others often require more than a little imagination to make out. You can find the constellations by looking up on a clear night for certain configurations among the stars.

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