I remember waiting for the bus downtown after work, and it was already pitch black. It was the beginning of 4 months of darkness, when the sun would be setting between 5 and 6, when evening would be long gone by suppertime. At that moment, though, I was grateful for the change. More than that, I was excited. This is a special kind of night we get to experience, pitch black at a time that we consider part of the day.
I love the night, I love being out late, in the dark, when the rest of the city is in bed or otherwise occupied. I love the bright moon and its shadows. I love walking around at night, without lights, seeing how my eyes adjust. But being able to enjoy the night, alone, in the city, is a rarity for me.
There are a million reasons why I can’t walk alone, freely and unconcerned, through the city at night. As much as I might act tough, I can’t force my body to forget what I’ve learned my whole life, through experience and constant warnings. I’m a woman. I am never truly safe. I could walk, but would I enjoy it, or would I constantly be on the lookout for danger?
When I was young, my family used to go on night hikes out through the forest around camp. These were silent walks, no speaking, flashlights turned off. We learned to adjust, to see, and to listen. We knew which wild animals were in the area – we weren’t naive – and we talked about a plan for what to do if we ran into them. But walking through the unlit wilderness, I learned even though the idea of darkness itself felt scary, the night itself really wasn’t so bad.
And now the night is back again. The clocks have changed, so it’s far more pronounced; The sun set at 4:54 pm today. I’m trying to muster that optimism I felt walking the the wilder nights, that there’s nothing to fear. I know that’s not true here.
But what about that excitement I felt, waiting at the bus stop, on that night when I realized that night had returned and would be wrapping our whole northern city up in its cloak – what was I so hopeful for?
I smiled for this false night, the night that falls before night should fall, and the darkness of evening while still carrying on with activities that belong before sleep. It feels like night, but not in the true night way, when the city is a ghost town. People are out, doing whatever they do at 7 p.m. under a 3 a.m. sky.
I was excited for the early sunset, because it meant that for a season, everyone else would also be living in the night. I know that there are a million reasons to be scared of the darkness here, and now, and I wish they weren’t true. For a few dark months, though, I can pretend.