As I sit cross-legged on the dusty, earthy banks of the lake I peer off into the sunset of my new spot this week. The slowly setting sun that is partially hidden behind a thick, puffy mass of stratocumulus clouds paints the sky a beautiful orange-ish yellow. The beams of the sunrays reflect off the water’s surface almost like a glimmer of hope, of the dying days of the warm season. I recall Barry Lopez’s description of the lack of sunlight in his book Arctic Dreams. He describes a shipwrecked explorer and his crew’s emotions as they are forced to spend the winter in the Far North: “They awaited the return of the sun in a state of deep anxiety. More than the cold they hated the darkness; no amount of prolonged twilight could make up for the unobstructed view of that beaming star…‘The sunlight is sweet; and it is delightful for the eyes to see the sun’” (Lopez, 23). As I take in the beauty of sunset, I appreciate it more now than ever before, for I cannot fathom a world without sunlight. It is my source of courage, for all of my endeavors are a thousand times more frightening in the dark. It is also my natural alarm clock, for the warm, bright rays gently shine on my face every morning, signaling to me the beginning of a new day. Without it, I would have no sense of time and no sense of hope in a world of darkness.
I continue to gaze into the distance, the water seems almost motionless, but suddenly there’s a small, gentle ripple a few feet from the bank. I peer intently at the water, and suddenly I see the small curved head of a Northern Water Snake peek out from the surface of the lake as it peacefully swims through the water. The beams of sunrays reflect off the water’s surface almost like a glimmer of hope, of the dying days of the warm season. A colorful mixture of red and yellow Maple leaves are scattered sporadically on the banks of the river. The air is pungent of lake water. As the sun starts to fade even more and those glimmers of hope reflected upon the lake slowly die with the setting sun. I feel l tingles throughout my body, a cold, formidable sensation.
As it gets darker, I decide to walk around, no longer comfortable sitting down in such a vulnerable position. I stroll through a beaten path of the wooded area besides the lake. Some trees stand completely healthy and green, while others stand bare. And the rest are comprised of that beautiful red/yellow foliage. As I rustle through the leaves, I see a featureless figure quickly flutter past me. It’s sharp-edged wings zoom across my field of vision as I am left stunned, into another tree. A bat—more specifically, the brown bat that is common to Mercer County, NJ—is thriving in the one the environment that that fills me with fear—darkness. I hear some more rustling, but I am silent and suddenly frightened. I turn around quickly. Is someone else here? There’s no one in sight. I hear more rustling. My eyes scan the woods through the trees. Through my periphery, as the sun’s rays still offer some a sparse of light, I see a four-legged creature. It’s lone deer behind some Maple trees, calmly grazing on sparse grass available in this wooded area. As I quickly make my way to the main path that is surrounded by bright lights on tall lamp posts, I feel some of my courage come back because of this artificial light that humans have created to traverse through the darkness. As I see a thirteen more white-tailed deer on my walk back to my car, I watch in awe from the distance, no longer afraid because of the abundance of light around me. I think back to another phrase by Lopez in Arctic Dreams, in which he states “The awe one feels in an encounter with a polar bear is, in part, simple admiration for the mechanisms for survival it routinely employs to go on living in an environment that would defeat us in a few days” (Lopez, 26). In contrast, my bemusement lies in the deer, the bat, the snake’s ability to survive in an environment that has been so altered to fit the needs and desires of human kind. I think about their courage to adapt to an environment filled with chemicals, artificial lakes, and man-made paths. I think about my courage, which desperately clings onto the necessity of artificial light. As I stand there quietly, trying to not scare off the deer, I question—who is really the frightened one here? One thing for sure is that with the sunset, disappears my courage.