Sunday, March 18, 2012

At Day’s Close by A. Roger Ekirch

The book came to my attention because of the chapter on "first sleep" and "second sleep," and I’m afraid there’s not a lot more information on that particular topic that wasn’t already brought out. However…

The book is a systematic look at night-time, with each section devoted to one particular aspect of it, liberally loaded with quotations and with quite a few evocative illustrations. One section is about the natural dangers of the dark, another about criminals at night, another about how families buttoned up the premises, about meditation at night, and another about how and why people got together at night. If you sense contradictions between hiding at home from the dangers of the dark and socializing with the neighbors, remind yourself that life is complicated.

Evil spirits and criminal gangs and drunken drownings on the one side, and talking with friends after a long day’s work (or working late, if you were a tailor or baker) and evening trysts on the other make for a complex mosaic.

I learned quite a lot: I’d never known what a bed-stave (though I used something like it a few times) was or tried to make a pine-knot candle.

Warning: the thorough approach makes the book seem to jump around. But it was interesting, and worth the read. The last lines are:

With darkness diminished, opportunities for privacy, intimacy, and self-reflection will grow more scarce. Should that luminous day arrive, we stand to lose a vital element of our humanity--one as precious as it is timeless. That, in the depths of a dark night, should be a bracing prospect for any spent soul to contemplate.


Texan99 said...

I've always found the darkness more safe than alarming -- a good place to hide in rather than a potential source of unseen dangers. I have neighbors here who have a fear of the dark that strikes me as really peculiar. The mother of the family and all of the children refuse point-blank to go outside after dark, even in their own backyard. They're otherwise fairly normal. For me, there's nothing alarming about the idea of skulking around in the woods outside my house in the dead of night, but neighbors think it's odd that I don't mind walking home on a nice paved road and almost equally paved driveway through my woods. There's always enough light to keep my footing, and what should I fear, anyway? I know my woods like the back of my hand.

james said...

When we go camping we bring flashlights, but if the path is smooth you hardly need them. But when the path _isn't_...

The book goes into the dangers of the dark at some length. The most dramatic are the prowlers and fire, but the most common sort were of the falling in a ditch while drunk class.

I need to tinker with the settings here. Your comment went into moderation for some reason.