As a small child, I was afraid of the dark, or rather of the monsters that entered my bedroom under cover of darkness. As an adult, I feel safe in my bed, and, until recently, I was never in true darkness except when in bed. But I have been reacquainting myself with the dark: I have become a weekly commuter, and spend part of each week on a narrow-boat. In winter, when the sky is cloudy, I have been leaving my boat and returning to it in pitch darkness: stumbling along the towpath, trying to fit a key into a lock by touch, feeling my way from one end of the boat to the other to reach the main battery switch. Because I have dogs, one of which has to be kept on a lead because he would catch sleeping waterfowl if he could, I have to venture forth into the dark last thing at night and first thing in the morning. Thus I have become acquainted with shades and degrees of dark of which I was previously unaware, from pitch black to the bright light of the full moon, and acquainted, too, with the noises of the night, the barking of foxes, the hooting of owls, the cracking of the fire, the stirring of the sleeping dogs, the sound of rainfall (particularly loud on the roof of a boat).
LRB 9 March 2006 | PDF Download