It's funny that I never noticed before. In Alpharetta, I often wake up around 3 a.m., get dressed and drive to the YMCA, where I wait in the parking lot in my car from 4 to 5 a.m. for the Y to open so I can swim and then lift weights. That hour waiting is my writing time — my "me" time. It energizes my entire day — my entire week. It keeps me whole.
I drive the same route every time and go through the same routine every morning. It's dark when I drive to the Y. Down Academy Street I go, over 400, right on Preston Ridge, left into the Y. It's always the same — except for today. For the first time in all these years, I noticed that it really isn't dark outside; there are lights everywhere — on both sides of the road, on every block, on every building, along almost every street. I count 15 bright lights on poles right now as I sit here in the Y parking lot — illuminating empty static space, all night long. I am the only one here and these 15 lights have been burning since about 6:30 p.m. And it's now 4:30 a.m.
Interestingly enough, it looks like there are about another seven or eight lights on poles around the Y pool that are not lit. And, for the record, I'm not picking on the Y; I just happen to be here. The lights have been burning everywhere since 6:30 p.m.
We really experience very little “darkness.” Have you ever thought about that?
All night long, coal-fired power generating plants across the country feed the power grid and spew toxic carbon into our air that is poisoning our planet so we can illuminate empty parking lots, the sides of buildings, storefronts not passed by a single car, and empty sidewalks, roads, offices and neighborhoods. Check it out next time you are driving late at night or early in the morning. Lights, lights everywhere. Why?
We turn off our lights in our homes because they waste electricity. So why do we illuminate empty parking lots all night long — safety? Install motion-detector cells or use timers. They're fairly cheap. Or simply program 75 percent of all these lights to be off when they are serving no purpose other than to burn coal and support the power companies.
Why do we have all these lights turned on? Is it because it is light we cannot see? Maybe we should turn a lot of them off, you think?
I think the reason I have never noticed this frivolous and wasteful light is because it is simply invisible to me. It is just there. I had no reason to notice. So what changed? Darkness changed.
It's interesting — at least to me — probably only to me. I have been thinking a lot about light lately, so much that I am losing sleep. But the light that I am thinking about is “off” and I am trying to imagine how I am going to feel out in the middle of the woods in pitch blackness and I know that, at least at first, I am going to be very uncomfortable. I imagine that I will get used to it. But the act of thinking about it is what caused me to notice all these illuminated sides of buildings and empty streets. Darkness helped me see this light.
I plan to leave Alpharetta from Springer Mountain soon and walk the Appalachian Trail — Georgia to Maine, like 2,200 miles —along with several thousand other folks from all over the country and world.
I hate camping. I don't like to hike. But I have bought most of my gear and I've been training, reading, and, yes, hiking in preparation. I anticipate more than my share of darkness and, yep, I'm gonna change up my little morning routine.
Half of the journey will be in pitch black darkness somewhere on top of a mountain or in the middle of forests. That will be the sleeping part but I know that, before I fall asleep, I'll be awake and it will be dark — really dark — and that will be so different. And it will be so illuminating.
We'll see how far I get with my little adventure. One foot in front of the other a day at a time. I may make it to Maine and I may not, but I already know that, when I get back, all this light that I can see is really going to bug me.
I'll keep you posted.