Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Navigating at night

This weekend I was deer hunting at the farm where I grew up. Part of hunting deer is walking out in the woods after dark or before daylight. I love doing this.

Wendell Berry wrote:

To go in the dark with a light is to know the light,
To know the dark, go dark. Go without sight,
and find that the dark, too, blooms and sings,
and is travelled by dark feet and dark wings.

Sunday night we were on a difficult blood trail. We started tracking after dark and spent an hour bent over with lights, examining dry leaves, looking for tiny spots of blood. The trail curved and wandered, twisted and meandered. Fixed on the trail, we did not worry about directions or the easiest route back to the truck. Instead, we followed wherever the trail led.

When the blood ended -- just stopped -- we were far into the woods. We searched for a half hour, sometimes on hands and knees, sometimes bent double over the earth, but couldn't find another drop of blood or another distinctive track. We marked the spot, knowing we would return again the next morning.

Now, how to get out? There were no direction markers, no arrows pointing to the nearest exit, no lighted walkways. We could easily wander in circles for hours before finding the edge of the trees, and then we might find ourselves on the far side of the forest from the truck.

We turned off our artificial lights and stood for a long time in the dark. Eventually our eyes adjusted to the blackness and we could look up through the trees and puzzling among the branches, we finally made out Cassiopeia, Draco, and Ursa Minor, with brilliant Polaris on his tail. Using the North Star as our guide, we struck a straight path to the edge of the woods, walking carefully through the tangle of brush and thorns. In a very short time we emerged into the dark alfalfa field to find the world mantled with a gorgeous wrap of open sky and bright stars. We had new wounds -- cuts and scratches on hands and faces. The world is not a gentle place.

How often in this life we need to shut off the glare of our own lights, the shine of our own preoccupations, to trust the one who hovers above us, never changing, never lost. When we turn our eyes skyward we may find directions we had not known we needed. We think we need our artificial lights, but in reality the Light of the World is just overhead. Turn off your own illumination. Trust him. Follow him. (Proverbs 3:5-6)