The Winter Night

The Winter Night

This post is contributed by Barnaby Porter from his archives. Read the previous post here.

I recently took a walk one cold winter night, to commune with the night sky and gaze out into the Universe. I am much more aware of what’s up there at night than I am by day, which, on first examination doesn’t make as much sense as it ought to.

After all, if a body thinks about it, there is much more of the familiar world visible by the light of day; it’s what our eye is geared to: trees and water, mountains and clouds, the creatures of the Earth, the landscape. Nothing, however, beyond the biosphere is revealed to us except for the Sun and the Moon.

With nightfall, all that changes. The daytime visuals disappear under the veil of darkness into the mystery of the night. And WOW, the real sky opens up, becomes a vaulting, shining dome through which we can see to infinity. By day, the eye sees only a puny few miles or as far as the weather will allow. But on a clear night our view of space reaches trillions of miles out through countless light-years, into the past, into the future, into realms even our wild imaginations can’t comprehend.

Sombrero galaxy

In a book I read a few years ago, a collection of photographs of Earth from space, accompanied by astronauts’ personal observations, I was struck by the number of references to the incredibly “bright blackness” of space, which seemed wonderfully descriptive to me. Of all the things they had to say, the persistent mentions of the total, bright clarity of outer space conveyed the most meaning to me and perhaps brought me the closest I will ever come to sharing their experience, that of gazing on the ultimate, uncluttered view of all that there is.

Suffice it to say, a good walk on a cold winter’s night brings to me an awareness of these things. And the coldness too, I believe, transports me even farther toward the reality of what is out there beyond the whisper of the night air, beyond the gentle rustle of the few oak leaves still clinging to their frozen branches, beyond the tightness of my breath as its vapors vanish into the night. There is a palpable sweetness to a winter’s night, a heavenly mix of oxygen, evergreen and snow. Each draught of it sears into my senses with that bright blackness so sharp it is almost all I am aware of… until I catch a whiff of wood smoke from somewhere – my neighbor’s house upwind – with just a hint of maple in it to add to the sweetness. And that one whiff makes me think of how little there is that separates me from the cold that wraps around my legs and from that bright black sky overhead.

Barnaby PorterArtist and author Barnaby Porter has had a varied career in marine research, aquaculture, and woodworking, among others. Most recently he partnered with his wife Susan as co-owners of the Maine Coast Book Shop & Cafe in downtown Damariscotta. In October 2021, Barnaby completed his tenure on Coastal Rivers’ Board of Trustees after six years of service.

Images courtesy of NASA.