Cave Dark

Wed, 15 Sep, 2010

Cave-Dark

Having grown up in Widecombe I'm a country lad - London-born but Dartmoor-bred.

Widecombe is a strange, fantastical place to grow up, there is still the remnants of a farming community there, but most of the population either work in the tourist industry or commute off the Moor to work. From the empty grey days of Winter to the teeming hordes of tourists in the Summer it is a place of extremes.

Having spent several nights up on Haytor Rocks for my time-lapse project, I find myself missing one of those extremes from childhood:

Darkness.

Living in an urban environment darkness is in short supply with streetlights on every road, outside every bedroom window, night lights, blinking LEDs from appliances etc. Widecombe in the Seventies, on the other hand, had one streetlight. Not one streetlight for the village but one streetlight for the whole 16 square mile parish. If the cloud cover was complete, so was the darkness. The settlements around the edge of the Moor were too small or too far away for reflected sodium light.

We're not talking "wait a minute and your eyes will adapt" darkness here, we're talking cave darkness - too dark to see your hand in front of your face, too dark to see the trees silhouetted against the sky.

Woe betide you ever found yourself caught out in the lanes without a torch. Getting home involved bouncing off the hedges and hoping you were heading in the right direction...

The closest I've come to that level of darkness since then is a film changing room at university, where being able to see any light meant that the photographic film had becoming exposed and ruined. Even the colour darkrooms weren't *that* dark!Cave-Dark

Having grown up in Widecombe I'm a country lad - London-born but Dartmoor-bred.

Widecombe is a strange, fantastical place to grow up, there is still the remnants of a farming community there, but most of the population either work in the tourist industry or commute off the Moor to work. From the empty grey days of Winter to the teeming hordes of tourists in the Summer it is a place of extremes.

Having spent several nights up on Haytor Rocks for my time-lapse project, I find myself missing one of those extremes from childhood:

Darkness.

Living in an urban environment darkness is in short supply with streetlights on every road, outside every bedroom window, night lights, blinking LEDs from appliances etc. Widecombe in the Seventies, on the other hand, had one streetlight. Not one streetlight for the village but one streetlight for the whole 16 square mile parish. If the cloud cover was complete, so was the darkness. The settlements around the edge of the Moor were too small or too far away for reflected sodium light.

We're not talking "wait a minute and your eyes will adapt" darkness here, we're talking cave darkness - too dark to see your hand in front of your face, too dark to see the trees silhouetted against the sky.

Woe betide you ever found yourself caught out in the lanes without a torch. Getting home involved bouncing off the hedges and hoping you were heading in the right direction...

The closest I've come to that level of darkness since then is a film changing room at university, where being able to see any light meant that the photographic film had becoming exposed and ruined. Even the colour darkrooms weren't *that* dark!

Full darkness is a curious experience, a form of sensory deprivation, one is reduced to hearing, touch and lesser known senses like the infra-red sensitivity of the skin, that sense which let's you tell that a kettle is hot without touching it or looking at it. That sensitivity, combined with hearing, can often give you a good feeling for the size and shape of smaller spaces, picking up on reflected sound and heat, forming a virtual and often rather fuzzy model of the space inside your head.

Without the concreteness of vision, the the senses blur together - can we tell that there is a wall in front of our face from the echoes, from the heat radiated from our bare skin and reflected back to it, from a mix of the two that can't be unravelled? I don't know, but the knowledge of the wall is still there.

Like sensory deprivation, the mind simultaneously races and slows, only the breath and heartbeat to give a sense of time, sometimes giving us the time and space to think that gets crowded out of a busy life.

Ian

Keywords