We seem to have become a partly nocturnal species.
So many people who work into the dark hours; so many more who party into or even through nights; so much we do these wee hours.
It’s only by turning what would naturally be dark hours into lit-up ones, however, that we do that.
Really being in the dark still feels just the way that phrase makes it sound, like being in the dark, not knowing, being insecure and in danger. The dark night of the soul is not a time (or is that a place?) to be; the dark is magical and menacing.
It is the perfect setting for making oneself more at home, then, both in the unfamiliar of the dark night and in the awareness that there should be dark, even as it’s not the time and circumstance that we feel quite at home with.
Sleep, as going through dark cold nights can make only too obvious, is the much more natural domain of the night for us; but experiencing the nightly part of Earth’s rotation, with sunset, stars, and sunrise, is a great way of becoming aware of all these meanings of the dark and the night again.
Not quite having known whether or not I should go out to the Great Wall, and at the “Wild Great Wall” section of Jiankou at that, I decided to seriously break with the indecision by not just going out there, but making sure I’d spend a good part of the darkness around the wall.
It works, for me anyways, because time in the dark like that is not just a lesson about our relationship with the dark and the night, but also makes the familiar less familiar and the unfamiliar less unfamiliar. In the dark, not only are all cats grey; all places are also under the same light, or lack of light, of stars and moon and thereby transformed into a state in-between the familiar and the strange, in terms of both place and time.
For the sunset, I went over and up to Zhengbeilou (“Sharp North Tower”). (That route is the one used for discussing the Suunto Ambit3’s navigation function here.)
It was a winter sunset to a glorious blue-sky day, and with temperatures dropping even more quickly than the sun. As I noticed when I drank the last of the water I had brought with me, and it had turned into ice slush…
Going down the path again, it was already different in dusk and rapidly falling darkness. After a warm-up and dinner at the hostel, newly equipped with a bottle of hot water to use as hand warmer, I ventured back out to where I had started at the wall just before noon.
The nearly-full moon illuminated the path, making for a not-so-dark night. One of those old points of familiarity with the night, most indelibly in my memory from the Grossglockner Trail. We keep talking of dark nights and fleeing under artificial illumination, but the night is not all that dark on a moonlit path.
Starry night skies make for familiar circumstances; the Northern hemisphere skies are always and everywhere the same, in their (or actually, our) regular turn through the seasons, after all…
But, they also illuminate different landscapes and make them all the more fascinating again.
And, finally, astrophotography makes it all the clearer how much light pollution there is in so many a place, now even in China. It’s still seen as a sign of progress, but perhaps we should reconsider.
As the night had progressed to early morning, I set out again to see about more star photography and this side of Earth’s return into sunlight. We had already turned away from the moon, so the night was pitch dark then.
The path was illuminated bright as day wherever I shone the light of my Surefire C2 (upgraded with a strong LED head), though, and the route uploaded and activated on the Ambit3 also served to make sure I went the right way. First, just along the path, then up onto the wall again (this time farther south, below Tianti and Yingfeidaoyang) and along there.
[Talking of gear: the photos were all, again/still, taken with a Sony RX100M2.)
Some climbing became necessary at points, and it was different again in the simultaneously more intimate and potentially more dangerous embrace of the dark.
With the very first signs of dusk, I came upon a watchtower in which some people had put up their tents, and I could only find a way up onto its roof but not around, so decided to await the sunrise there.
A bit of a surprise for the sleepers there to find a foreigner above their heads, but the three students it turned out to be took it in stride, we struck up a conversation and shared in the views…
…breakfast, and then the rest of the path, a bit along the wall…
… to the bus…
… to a late lunch…
… and back to Beijing.
All in all, a tale of contrasts. Darkness enhancing the light; light creating darkness. As in the life we need to make ourselves at home in if we are to really live.
Read more about views about making oneself at home gained from this Great Wall visit here.