Thursday 9 May 2013

Dark Article - Natural Darkness

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Natural Darkness

By Casey Douglass

I recently had one of those evenings where you just don’t know what to do. You feel ill but restless, you feel depressed but distant from it, you feel like life is pretty meaningless and just aren’t sure how you feel about that thought. In other words, you are very much in your own head, and you don’t particularly like it. It was a pleasant evening weather-wise, the sun almost setting, so I thought I would have a walk into the nearby woodland and see if I could take some moody photos. I also thought it might be a giggle to see how spooky the woods became and how long I would stay there. Some Buddhist traditions embrace meditating in dark spaces as part of their advanced practices, so it did cross my mind that it might help my mood, or shatter my brain completely. I should probably add that I have meditated in various ways for many years, and am not someone who hears something and thinks it will be a quick fix, mainly because nothing ever is.

A short distance down the road, I was glad I had gotten out of the house. The sun was warm and bathing everything in a heavenly glow. Anyone who has played Bioshock Infinite will immediately get my meaning. Dust motes and bugs glinting near hedgerows as they danced in and out of the sun’s fading light. It was very beautiful.

I got to the woods and was just in time. The sun was close to disappearing behind the crest of the peaked hilltop, but it shone invitingly onto some of the trees, while leaving others in darkness. It almost had a hint of “Why are those trees being favoured? What makes them so special?” My gain either way as I took some interesting pictures.

I also had my trust digital recorder with me, hoping to capture some woodland sounds as the birds began to roost and the woodland night shift takes over. I had previously used an older kind that had two separate mics, but it was very fiddly to get them clipped in a pleasing way. I treated myself to a Zoom H1 a few weeks ago, so thought I would bring it along. Previous attempts had found that it was quite prone to wind noise, so I need to come up with some kind of windbreak or dead-cat cover to keep the wind out of my recordings. I still hadn’t procured one so I brought it with me on the off chance of recording something decent. I found a nice little depression to stand it on a mini tripod, mainly out of the wind. I then sat nearby, as motionless as possible, listening and watching to woodland go dark around me. 

The sunlit glade I was in made the darkness of the deeper wood even more stark, but I sat happily, occasionally looking around at the sound of the odd rustle, with a wave ready if anyone was dog walking in the distance. Wouldn’t want people to think I was upto no good. What would they think? “Who the hell does that guy think he is? Sitting there all quiet and motionless. Must be upto something!” I contented myself with listening to the wood pigeons flapping and watching the odd squirrel jump from one tree to another.

A slight itch drew my attention to my hand and I saw the long proboscis of a gnat piercing my skin. I flicked the unwanted guest away, failing first time as it still held on. It pestered me for the next ten minutes while I contemplated the slight prickling at the base of my hand. The bugger.

When I looked around again, the golden glow had vanished. When did that happen? It still wasn’t dark dark, but almost. I decided to change location and sit in the darkest place I could find. A moment later a large black dog ran ahead of me, but I did very well. Well, once I saw it was a lab, and not some kind of scary hell-hound. I then saw the young couple walking it and said good evening. It was nice to see people, even after half an hour sitting alone. Or maybe I was still just relieved not to have had my throat ripped out.

I found the next place to sit and setup my recorder again. It was very dark now, the sky in the distance still showing a hint of colour, but everything around me had faded to dark grey and black. I sat and listened. The wood pigeons were silent now, there were hardly any bird calls or any other sounds of life. The wind started to chill me as it found some added strength from somewhere, making the trees creak in a pleasant way. I closed my eyes and listened, feeling engrossed and at home. I wondered if that made me weird but realised I didn’t care. After being afraid of the dark from a young age, as most people are, and afraid of monsters, demons and other beasties, I was sure if I had told my young self that I would one day sit alone in a dark wood, I wouldn’t have believed it for one moment. Then I heard a chilling sound, and one that I instantly knew. It was just strangely out of place, which made it seem so strange and a little creepy. I heard the siren of an ambulance in the distance, slowly getting nearer along the road that was some distance away. I listened to it Doppler past and vanish again into the night, the birds roosting giving the odd flit and flutter at having been disturbed. A reminder of civilisation and mortality all rolled into one.

I pondered for awhile longer, and then having decided my bum was quite numb enough, I stood with my camera and decided to take some spooky self portraits. I did a couple with just the light of the sky behind me silhouetting, which was fine, as far as it goes. Then I had the bright (pun intended) idea of using the flash. Cue a burst of light that isn’t that easy to handle when you have been in a dark place for almost an hour. I think I swore, must remember to check the recordings to see. I also got startled by the roosting birds that the flash disturbed. I didn’t want to scare them again but decided on taking a few more. Yes that’s right. I’m bad.

I decided to head for home as it occurred to me I soon wouldn’t be able to see the path or the way out, and I had no torch except my camera flash. I could have done it that way I’m sure. Flashing in the woods! I was a few steps down the path when I heard a fox start to bark. It was eerie and mournful and I had a couple of attempts at recording it. It didn’t seem to be coming any nearer and slowly went further away. I’d had about enough by this point so I bid the woods a good night and made my way home.

The next morning I awoke to three lovely angry looking bites on my hand, a collection of interesting photos, and recordings suffering from wind noise as I feared they might. It was an experience though so I have no regrets in doing it.

I’d be interested to hear of anyone else’s visits to spooky or dark places, whether to sit and ponder or merely to test their own mettle. Please comment below if you have something to share.