between our steps 01 09 19 doubleLight. In our modern world we take for granted the presence of light. In fact, if we want to see stars or northern lights, we have to make an intentional effort to get away from the pervasive light of town, house, car, street.

For some of us, it is only when we seek the stars that we turn off the light and appreciate the gift of dark. Last summer, on those long, bright, dry, too-hot days, we did seek shadow to get away from the sun.

This fall, we have longed for light. The sun has been hidden behind heavy grey clouds hanging low over water and land. Even when they did not drop rain or snow, they blocked the light making us feel heavy, gloomy, weighed down. The moments when bright light poked through the cloud have been glorious and too infrequent.

In a season like this, we are reminded not to take light for granted. Inside, we assume light is at our fingertips. At the door to a room, we flick a switch. Light turns on. Powerful overhead lights brighten the space. We can find our way without tripping. We can locate our sweater or the book we want to read.

In the kitchen and study and workroom, there are lights that focus on work spaces. These chase shadows to give us a clear look at what we are doing. Our new house has lights in the closets so that we can find things that have been stored in back corners.

When we had the farm house rewired, one of the first things I did was purchase night-lights. As well as enjoying the luxury of turning on a light with a switch at the door, I wanted those small, efficient lights that show the way in the dark.

In our new house, the night-lights are important, but when I got up for a drink of water during the few cloudless nights we have had, I looked for a way to block them for a few minutes. They reflect in the windows, giving the impression of three lights hanging in the air outside. As well as being strange, they hid the stars. I closed a door so that I could see the little dipper outside our bedroom window. I pulled one from the wall so I could look at the stars in the sky south of us.

The full moon doesn't need help. When it rises, the full moon outshines the night-lights. Before it sets behind Kemble Mountain, the bright white ball outshines the light that escapes our windows.   

Though I resent the way outside lights mask the stars, they can be necessary. Reading a book set in the twenties, I was reminded how much difference gas lights, and later electric lights made to the safety of people who live in cities. And I appreciate the few street lights in the country that mark important intersections, though I am glad there aren't any right where I live.

We have outdoor lights that can be turned on and off. There are two at the front door, one near the garage, and one out at the road. If I know we are getting home after dark, I turn on the ones by the road and garage. After we had been here a month and a half, it suddenly entered my conscious brain that there were three bulbs in each light, but two were burned out.

The single bulb gave enough light to park, to find the door, but if that one burned out, we'd have a hard time. And the one at the road required the medium length ladder to change the bulbs. I did the lower one first to figure out how the cover opened. I was glad there wasn't more snow, that it wasn't any colder, when I climbed to do the second.  

Our society counts on the gift of light. We can work through the night by electric light if we want to. We can forget the gift of dark, the gift of deep black night, the benefit of shadow. I am looking forward to a few cold, dark February nights. I hope to catch sight of northern lights dancing.

Cathy Hird lives on the shore of Georgian Bay.

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