This is the first in the "Fall Series" of essays begun in 2010.
Contrary to what some might think, no night in the woods is ever completely dark. There is never a time when I open my eyes and feel as though I’d never opened them at all. As starless and moonless as some nights are, there is always some sort of light shining from somewhere, and the black treetops are nearly always silhouetted against a lighter background.
Cloudy nights can be surprisingly bright, as the clouds manage to reflect some of the sun’s residual light, making the sky appear lighter by comparison. If there is a full moon behind those clouds, midnight seems more like a late winter afternoon. And on the coldest January nights, the earth manages to reflect the light from the billions of stars that stand out in stark contrast to the black velvet drape they appear to be affixed to.
There are few street lamps along the long stretch of South Waterboro Road that separates me from both Biddeford and Waterboro. Sometimes, when it’s snowing, I turn my porch lights on and watch the soft and silent fall of flakes, each sharing its light with me before disappearing in the vast white sea below. Like fireflies on a hot July night, they possess a spark that is all their own as they fall noiselessly to earth on nights when the moon hides its face. Later, with the lights turned off, the glow lingers across my snow-enveloped world.
Some nights, I lie awake, my face turned toward the window, where I gaze upon the stars, occasionally seeing a light moving among them made by some celestial vehicle bound for parts unknown. On foggy nights, I stare up at a bare canvas through equally bare branches, watching them sway in the wind, soothed by a softening of atmosphere.
Once, on a full moon night, I saw a shadow skitter across the foot of my sloped driveway. It was a fox, probably on the hunt. It stopped briefly at one point to look back, ever vigilant, as is their kind, for danger. It soon resumed its moonlit trek and disappeared into the woods across the road. I sat for awhile, my eyes glued to where it had stood in the moon glow among the trees casting long shadows across the bluish snow. But it was not to retrace its steps that night, at least not while I was watching.
It is never completely dark in the woods. Even on the blackest nights, my eyes eventually adjust to whatever light shines faithfully behind cloud banks, allowing me to observe familiar shapes and shadowy objects that I take so much for granted during the day, objects that, in their altered nocturnal states, elicit a quiet reverence from their lone beholder.