Left in the Dark

It is another thing I like about the cottage – I love escaping the city’s lights. Our cottage doesn’t have any electricity, so at night it is lit by propane globes and oil lanterns. They illuminate the cabin’s polished wood interior in a warm soft glow.

There has been much talk about light pollution in cottage country. At our lake, this has yet to become a real problem. Here, the night sky still exists, and has not been lost in the lights, street lamps or general glow of civilization. Often we can look along the more populated south shore of our lake, and see only a dozen or so distant cottages with their lights on. And, while looking up at the sky from many places often comes with the restrictions of buildings, hills or even trees, lying out on the rocky point of our island, the sky is big, a total dome overhead, and the starry display on a cloudless night is often spectacular.

I love the total darkness that we have here, and have summered at this place for so long, that I can find my way around the trails in the night without need of a lamp. And, if one needs help, a simple flashlight will do. During a recent family gathering at the cottage, my kid sister and brother in law decided to make the place a bit more resort-ish. They had brought a couple dozen solar lights with them, and had spiked them in an organized fashion alongside the trail that led from the cabin to their bunkie. I was horrified. Our island had taken on the look of a tropical resort with Tiki torches, or perhaps of an airport runway at night.   Though their scheme was reasonable and sound, meant to make the journey from main cottage to their bunkie easier in the dark, I found that the shadows cast by the dim lights had me tripping over roots or stubbing my toes on rocks.

Rather than acting mature and simply talking to them about these glowing standards, I decided my best and most practiced strategy was to act childish. While everyone sat around the evening fire, I snuck off and moved the lights, changing their path, so rather than leading down the trail, they curved off into the middle of some rough bramble. Then, quite pleased with myself, I hid behind a tree and tried to control my juvenile giggles. I heard someone approaching, then the rustle of leaves and the snapping of branches.   There followed the thump of someone falling and the oomph of landing hard – all the calamity capped by a sharp and unsavoury exclamation. I felt bad for a brief second.

“Which one of you fool kids moved my lights!” my sister’s husband cried. I chortled through my nose and ran back to the cottage through the darkness.

I felt a bit sheepish and foolish on the following morning in the light of day, especially when I saw my fine brother-in-law, his arms and legs scratched from prickles, taking down his trail of lights in a huff and storing them away in the shed. Still, I am happy to be rid of them. I guess my point was taken.

The Cottage at the Bonfire

The Cottage at the Bonfire

To celebrate my small victory, that night, after the sun had disappeared in the west, our bonfire had been doused, and the lake was dark once again, I gathered everybody on the rocky point. Adults and kids lay out on our backs like tumbled bowling pins, helter-skelter, staring up at the brilliant canopy of stars. My son used me for a pillow, and my wife and daughters snuggled in by my side. Only a few cottage lights were to be seen on the mainland. With no lights, clouds or moon, the display of stars was amazing. We watched overhead for hours – as falling stars lit a comet-like trail and flashing satellites drifted slowly past. We lost ourselves in the wonder of the Milky Way and tried to pick out the constellations.   The dark night was beautiful, and peaceful.

When you venture to your cottage, try your best to leave the bright urban glow behind – the city lights are pretty there, but not here. Make a point of turning off unnecessary lights, not just for yourself, but also for your cottage neighbours. And, most importantly, don’t forget to look to the heavens. Some people never see that sight. It is sometimes nice being left in the dark!

*For those who love technology, there are “Night Sky” apps available for your phone to help you identify stars and constellations – and then you can use your device’s flashlight to find your way back to the cottage at the end of the night.*