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In Search of the Practical Life: Light, Fog,


The fog lays over our little island like a child tucked in the bed for night. It’s as if we are all being called to say our prayers and retire the day’s events. There is nothing surrounding us… there are no little rock islands to which to paddle, neighbours to greet, or mountains to reach. Will there even be a tomorrow? Everything that came before is soft like yesterday’s dreams. Some of it vaguely menacing, some of it not.

The light is short, with the darkness out competing it by hours and the fog lending its hand decidedly toward the winner. With all that dark, it’s best if we go to bed early and wake up late. I resent the forced march of school, deadlines, and social obligations. Why don’t we hibernate? Is the world suffering from too much wakefulness, like children who skip their naps become wild with fatigue. Or as we age how our bodies seem to need a kind of rest our minds can give them.

Clearly there is something—God, nature, Big Foot—that has made it such that those of us that live on top of the world are perched perfectly for days, weeks, even months of doing little. Do less. Reflect more.

Each day on the other side of December 21st, I am aware of this light trudging back in. Have I reflected enough? Have I learned anything? Am I any better than I was yesterday. Sometimes the light is unrelenting. I went to Iceland during the eternal light of the summer but what I want to do is escape close enough to the pole to have those fleeting few weeks of continual night. Even there, however, the darkness is more myth than reality. Half of Eskimos in the world live too far south to see the sun disappear for an entire day. Even at the North Pole there are 140 more hour of sunlight each year than at the equator; 230 more at the Arctic Circle.

At a mere 50 north in latitude the sheer amount of light seems frightening. Here the sun is visible for 16 hours, 22 minutes during the summer solstice and 8 hours, 4 minutes during the winter solstice. We hang there in midwinter with each day getting only darker or lighter by less than a minute but by February it feels as if we are hurtling towards the light: with that short month accruing a 100 minutes of light and it just hurls all the faster as we move towards the equinox in March.

This is what I think of when I think of the speed of light. Lying in bed, a child next to me, listening for the sounds of the dawn as I peer into the deep ash blue of the night trying to stir to make the fire, start the breakfast, and pack the lunches. When I finally rise, will I make it to the bus stop and smile and wave as the bus pulls away or will we stand there—small hand in big hand—and watch as it disappears around the foggy bend. And in which one will my heart fill faster with regret?