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Vagneur: In the dark

Tony Vagneur
Saddle Sore

The cocoon of night creeps stealthily upon us, long shadows quietly disappearing into twilight, accompanied by the encroaching silence of fading bird calls. Deep, pungent fragrance from the piney forest mixes into the soft evening breeze, enhancing our understanding that the day will soon be over.

My horses know we’ve reached the end, and there’s a renewed spirit in their hoof falls as we cover the last few miles to camp, even though their tiredness can be felt as easily as the setting sun can be seen. Ears cocked forward, manes bouncing with the enthusiastic, up-and-down movements of their heads and necks, they know there’s a bucket of grain and a well-earned respite waiting.

The ritual of horses calling it a day is transferred to our own tiredness, and as they roll in the now-cool grass in obvious enjoyment, we let ourselves drift to a slower speed, watching until it’s over; the roll-ending shaking of their bodies and the snuffling of their noses as their shadows drift off through the trees, looking for the best grass to graze, signifying that all is well.

Soon, darkness will cloak and wrap itself around us, engulfing us in its nothingness, its lack of light and reflection. There’s a certain comfort in the blackness, knowledge that we’re in for the night and, in the absence of madmen or crazed grizzlies breathing in our ears, reasonably safe.

There was a time when people feared the dark — or so historians say. They had little knowledge of what transpired at night, mostly due to a lack of artificial light, and demons were easily summoned, especially when tales got embellished around a communal fire. Stories of werewolves, vampires, huge man-eating wolves and other monstrosities too hideous to name were passed from camp to camp, and dread reigned supreme over the dark of night. It did little good to debunk such stories to the believers, for as in religion and politics, reality is what one makes of it. Nevermind that many of the disasters that befell night travelers were instigated by small gangs of cruel outlaws, preying on those unlucky enough to be out.

The true essence of darkness can be experienced in a natural cave so far in that not a sparkle of outside light can be seen in any direction. That is the darkness that lost souls endure, the sheer emptiness of nothing. If you go to sleep in such obscurity, you will never know how long you slept — was it mere seconds or many hours? There is nothing to gauge time but your own inner clock, which doesn’t perform very well under such circumstances.

Ah, but in today’s world, the promise of a crackling fire and scrumptious food, perhaps accompanied by good wine, makes the onset of darkness a welcome experience. Cuddling up with the one of your dreams, catching the fall of shooting stars or listening for intriguing sounds from the forest, night is generally a good experience.

Late in December, the last run off the ski hill can be to participate in a changing black-and-white world with curious excitement. The gleaming white of snow changes to dull gray in the twilight with black-knotted, pale aspens in every direction, and the coming shroud of night opens itself with embracing invitation. With your skis and boots safely stored, the patiently waiting horses at home welcome you to the feeding ground with soft nickers as the last reflection of dusk quickly caresses its way along the corral rails. The fire in the cook stove pops and snaps, the peace of a well-spent day washes over your being, and the wish for tomorrow must wait for rest.

Tony Vagneur writes here on Saturdays and welcomes your comments at ajv@sopris.net.


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