It was still full dark when I left…it will be a while before dawn and I coincide again on the drive back from the north. I miss those intimate moments when the first rays of the sun creep over a horizon strewn with ancient stone… and no-one else is in sight. This morning, there was just the blackness and the vague, sulphurous haze on the edge of vision that marks the towns and villages, glimpsed as you pass over the wide, empty moorlands.
On the roads I travel, there is no other light until I pass through the sleeping habitations of man…only that which I bring with me. As I left the hilltops, the trees and hedgerows shelter the road and I was struck by the difference made by the headlights of the car.With the lights on full beam I can see a fair distance ahead, but the blackness beyond the brash light seems complete. Around me, the arching branches of the hedgerows and trees that line the road seem to form a solid tunnel…impenetrable walls beyond which I cannot see. I can only stick to my path, blinded to the road when my own headlights hit the reflective surface of a puddle or road sign. Blinded too by the lights of oncoming cars that seem to devour my light…especially those who forget to dip their beams as they approach… attracting curses, no doubt, if I forget to dim my own. Too much of this harsh light does not illuminate the path… it seems to erase it, leaving you disoriented and momentarily lost, even fearful.
The brilliance of other lights can be deceptive… when all you can see is the tail-light of another vehicle ahead of you, you almost automatically follow the red pinpoints, assuming they can see and are on the right line… when in fact, there are no guarantees of that at all… nor that they are taking the same road…You could easily follow them and end up lost or stuck in the mud of a ditch.
With my own lights dipped, I find the light more gentle. Although I cannot see quite as much of the road ahead, it softens into distance rather than being cut off by darkness. It illuminates the shapes of the bushes and reaching branches, so that each stands out clearly. Even in the all-encompassing night, you get an impression of the space both around and beyond the trees, catching glimpses of movement and the reflections of the eyes of wild creatures…. and the rain falls through the twin beams like a gift of diamonds or stardust dropped in your path…motes of light from the heavens.
The cat’s eyes in the road become a sure trail to follow… bright guiding pinpricks, navigating the darkness…yet they emit no light; they guide you onwards by reflecting your own… their only light is that which you bring to the journey.
As the sun begins to rise and the horizon lightens, the world starts to detach itself from the shadows and take on recognisable form. The familiarity of the shapes around you is reassuring, yet the half-light is probably the most difficult time to drive. You think you know where you are and what you see, yet it is an uncertain light and falsifies perception. The headlights seem to lose their potency against the growing dawn, becoming more of an affirmation that says ‘I am here’ than a help on the journey.
As the sun bathes the morning in gold, you can no longer see your light…it has been subsumed by a greater light and is no longer needed to see the journey ahead. It serves you not at all… yet it may serve others who travel the roads with you, warning them of bends and hills in the miles ahead or reassuring them that they are not alone on the road.
The dark road home is a long one, with plenty of time for musing and reflection… but one thing is certain, such roads cannot be travelled without light.