Viewpoint: An ode to autumn nights

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By Frants Attorp

As winter approaches, the daylight hours decrease, not at random, but with mathematical precision and total predictability. This has happened billions of times before, always at the same tempo, always in perfect harmony with the universal clock.

In early times, before science cast its cold, clear light on creation, our understanding of the world was subject to the phantom workings of the imagination. Hopes and fears manifested themselves in our interpretation of the shadows that danced on the cave wall and the clouds that scudded past the ever-changing moon. Is it a bad omen or an evil spirit? Are the gods happy or are they preparing to wreak their revenge? Nobody knows for sure, but the smell of the earth and the steady breathing of those who slumber offer a certain reassurance.

Here in my forest home, the stillness of a Salt Spring evening once again lays its steady hand on my restless soul. The fire has died down and the wine I had before dinner is having a soporific effect. The dishes are done and the Knowledge Network takes me and my wife back to a time before a constant flow of unsettling news made peace of mind impossible. “When you are old and grey and full of sleep, and nodding by the fire….”

Of course I realize this cozy feeling is nothing more than a romantic illusion. Consider that children, when asked whether rain happens for plants to grow or because water condenses into clouds, invariably choose the first explanation. Does anyone ever outgrow these puerile perceptions?

Newton and Darwin helped explain how the natural world works, but it took the great philosophers to connect the dots and lay bare the implications. They call it the human condition. Perhaps the best that we can hope for is to light a candle and enjoy the warm glow of the flame while it lasts.

Bedtime draws near. I brush my teeth and stare into the mirror. Lord have mercy! What has happened to my youthful self? What are those bags under my eyes, those sagging jowls and dark spots on my skin? Is there no escaping the ravages of time?

“Last scene of all that ends this strange eventful history is second childishness and mere oblivion. Sans teeth, sans eyes, sans taste, sans everything.” Damn, but the old bard had a way with words! How did he learn that . . . or did he? A river of consciousness flows from the dead to the living.

My bedroom can’t be too hot nor too cold lest I have trouble drifting off to sleep. I leave the window cracked a bit so I can savour the cool air flowing over my face and listen to the nighttime sounds of the forest. The wind picks up and strikes a mournful note as it sweeps down through the trees on Mount Tuam.

I slide under the duvet and curl up into the fetal position. My mind settles as I shut out the clamour of the modern world. Then my heart slows and starts to beat in time to an ancient rhythm, one that echoes the origins of our species. I let go and surrender to the dark mysteries of the night.

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