Perhaps there is even more traffic tonight than is usual. If the entire town is without electricity, then the movie theatre and the bowling alley, the stores and restaurants will all be closed, (though I'd bet that the bars will manage to continue operating by candlelight.) And without even television with which to stave of the backwater boredom, many more people than usual will feel compelled to rush down to the valley towns. Ah, the metropolitan fleshpots of Chico will be busy tonight. Lounge music at the Holiday Inn! Line dancing at the western bars! Planet of the Apes at the multiplex!
But I am not drawn to these things. Seeing the cluster of lights that is Chico by night, as the cars rush down the long slope of the ridge, there at the edge of the canyon; this always leaves me disquieted. The human place is so small, and seems so desperate to throw back the vast night!
Although my distractions have been taken from me, and I miss the denial they afford me; although their absence leads me to the edge of that despair expressed by Matthew Arnold in the final lines of Dover Beach-
...and we are here as on a darkling plane
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night.-
although the sound of those passing cars brings back to me all the images of all the lonely and piontless journeys of my life; still, I will remain here in the company of my familiar demons.
Yet the thought of that dark void makes the walls of these rooms press so close, and the still air weigh so heavily, that I am driven by a sudden claustrophobia into that emptiness which has so disturbed my thoughts.
And I find that the night is better here, in the cool air. At the full, or near it, the moon glares over the darkened houses and the grey street. It is no wonder that this great mass of rock wheeling across the sky has been worshiped as a goddess. This light, though mere reflection, has power to transform the world, revealing just enough to deepen the mystery in the shadows. Colors are altered; those which are pale still further paled to ghostly white; those which are rich and vibrant in sunlight, reduced to shadows on shadow. All the contrasts of nature are subdued, while those of human works seem intensified.
And most fascinating, to my eye, are the ponderosas. Moonlight lends their textured and variegated brown and grey bark a rich sheen, as though it had been polished; and their needles, naturally reflective, show the faintest hint of deep,deep green, coated as with a silvery frost. The solid bulk of their straight trunks and gracefully bent branches rise against the dark slate of sky, with their shiny needles a cloudy, dark explosion around them. How strange, the power of a moonlit forest to tame infinite space, to draw night itself into a backdrop for the living trees, to spread calm like a carpet of fallen pine needles in an endless shade.