KIMBALL, Neb. – I don’t remember exactly how old I was, perhaps eight or nine, but I do remember the moment I realized that I didn’t have to be afraid of the dark.
It was late in the evening. Late for a youngster with a firm bedtime on the schedule, anyway. I decided to go outside. I don’t remember why, exactly, but possibly to extend the day’s play just a bit longer. It was cold out, and very, very dark. It may have been early autumn. The darkness was the kind of darkness you find out in the country in the Nebraska Panhandle. I walked around the outbuildings, feeling a shiver of fear as I did so. It was dark, probably overcast, and there was no moon, so I couldn’t see well. Part of my mind insisted there could be something lurking nearby, some kind of monster or wild animal or alien. Maybe a ghost or a bogeyman. Another part of my mind insisted there was nothing present in the night which wasn’t present in the day. Sure, the darkness could be hiding something from my direct vision, but probably not. I also knew from experience and from science lessons in school the what and why (in an elementary sense) of night vision adaptation. My pupils dilated and I could see more and more. Before long I realized that I could see quite well. My hearing and sense of smell seemed to be heightened, too, and even my skin seemed to be more sensitive to the feel of vibrations in the night air. In some ways it was a big moment, a moment of discovery and growth. I felt like I had learned an important lesson. It was in some sense a secret lesson, too, for in my experience I had seen that people chose, for the most part, to huddle away from darkness, leaving the outdoors at sunset and sheltering indoors in a world of artificial light. An unspoken and perhaps unintended lesson had been learned from that behavior -- that darkness is to be avoided. My exploration had revealed something quite unexpected. I’d discovered that the night is a lovely place, a place to be cherished and enjoyed. Years later, when it came time to do naval night stuff, I was a bit more prepared than my peers. Many of them, I suspect, had a latent fear of the dark. I did not. I was acquainted with the night. At some point I found that Robert Frost had managed to put some of my feeling about the night into lovely words:
Acquainted With the Night
Robert Frost, 1928
I have been one acquainted with the night. I have walked out in rain—and back in rain. I have outwalked the furthest city light.
I have looked down the saddest city lane. I have passed by the watchman on his beat And dropped my eyes, unwilling to explain.
I have stood still and stopped the sound of feet When far away an interrupted cry Came over houses from another street,
But not to call me back or say good-bye; And further still at an unearthly height, One luminary clock against the sky
Proclaimed the time was neither wrong nor right.
I have been one acquainted with the night.
I still love the night. There’s nothing wrong with the day though. And the transition can be lovely. Sunday was a gloriously lovely day across the southern Panhandle of Nebraska. It was seasonally cool at sunrise, with the temperature about 38 degrees and the air marvelously still. I took a couple of pictures and a video of the sunrise. The video was taken with an app on my phone for transmission to my farmer friends in Herefordshire. In return, the farmer sent a short video of what he was busy doing at the same time. Because the Earth is a rotating sphere of a planet, and Herefordshire is located some 4,444 (or perhaps 4,439, depending on the tool you use) miles to the northeast, the local time there was 2 p.m., or seven hours ahead of Kimball. A perfect time of day to be harvesting apples, which is what they were busy doing. Harvesting apples and applying lime. Lime is added to increase soil pH. Soils tend to become acidic where lots of rain can leach alkaline compounds away, and Herefordshire receives 40-50 inches of rain each year. The next morning, 24 hours after making a video of a glorious autumnal sunrise, I returned to the same spot to make a video of an equally glorious, but very different, sunrise. A weather front had moved in, with rain changing to snow in the middle of the night. By Monday morning, Sunday’s clear skies had become fuzzy and filled with big, wet snowflakes. It was only a little bit cooler than the morning before, but enough cooler that snow was falling rather than rain. The location was exactly the same, but a blanket of snow and close horizons made it look very different. Such seasonal changes are among the many things I love about life. I inhabit a dynamic world and live a dynamic life. Living a dynamic life is a choice, and that’s an important concept. It’s also important to understand that choosing to live a dynamic life is much easier for me than for most of my countrymen, as I was born into a rural ranching family. I was not born a city or townsman, so I don’t have to find an excuse and corral a bunch of dollars and make time to visit nature. Nothing special about me, you understand, just my great good fortune in selecting the correct time and place to be born.