Monday, October 27, 2008

Great Darkness National Park

Family Vacation, 2004

Visitors invariably wonder at the immense scale of the thing, if it can be called a thing at all, if, in the total absence of all light, one complete obscurity can be called any greater than another. Rationally inclined visitors are disposed to discuss the lucid properties of light, an interesting subject that is totally besides the point where there simply isn’t any. Some refer to it as a natural wonder, others as the worst of Biblical curses.

Many visitors do not stay long; after all, what is there to see? These people invariably stay by the dim concession stand and gift shop on the edge of the park, the only source of light, sipping black coffee, debating whether or not to buy a poster, a calendar, DVD or a map. These are the same people that fall asleep to the TV or radio. They call to their vanished children in the dark not to let go of the guide rope. Most do not. Some do.

Lovers go a little farther, being used to being in the dark together. It is not more than a few yards, however, that the giggling and furtive kisses stop. Hands are gripped more than gently, and more out of fear. Even with the most loving couple comes the terrible realization that one is actually quite alone, and that the loving shade beside one is just another Persephone. Couples often return ashen, crying, or silent. Each wonders over a hurt they dare not speak to their companion: Why did you leave me? Why?

Many mistakenly believe the Park Rangers are naturally blind from birth, others that they are blinded by their job; both beliefs share, however, the conviction that their blindness makes them at home in the park. In reality, some are blind and some are not, but all have grown to be the same, in that they are indifferent to seeing. As to their familiarity with the park, they are as lost as any in the total darkness, but familiar with being lost. People invest them with preternatural ability in the hope that should they, or their children, venture out too far, or let go of the guide ropes, the rangers will find them. They will certainly try. But they can do little more than walk along the same ropes shouting a name, or listen, in the hopes to hearing something, ideally, frightened crying. Those who do not cry are never found.

There is another rumor, that at certain point, far into the interior of the park, the ropes give out, because no one has traveled any farther. It is true that the guide ropes really only go a little ways into shallow darkness. For those that need ropes, it is more than far enough. People do go further, however. Indeed, only people who camp overnight, for several nights, really ever see the park. It is not a question of their eyes adapting, for there is, of course, no light whatsoever to adapt to. They begin to see things, nonetheless. Just because it is totally dark does not mean there is nothing to see. This is the first piece of skepticism that must be overcome.

At first, one sees little more that faint grey flashes, like afterimages, mere phantoms –the sort of thing one sees with one’s eyes tightly closed, like distant thunderclouds. Gradually the darkness discloses other crepuscular shapes: faint dawns that lap upon one another, that originate at the horizon, or one’s nose; faint curtains that sweep past that are vaster than the most immense clouds or perhaps just before one’s face.

It is very rare to see much more than this. Beyond these simple phenomena, accounts vary greatly. Some go on to discriminate a whole plethora of faint visual entities: Will o’ the Wisps, streaks and skyfish. Others come to see immense patterns or colors. Still others say they see mythical creatures, gods, demons or things from their lives.

Most extraordinary are the claims of those who say that they begin to see things made of darkness proper; that there are indeed dark colors that are part of no spectrum of vision. That the park is a park like any other, with its own unique formations, denizens and inhabitants. That the blackest of crows fly under dark stars that are like black pinpricks in satin. That fishes dark as empty wells hug the banks of a black and silent river. That it is a beautiful and natural place. And that every man has this prospect before them, if they only looked when they closed their eyes.