craving light

I’ve only had a couple of Explores with the bike this summer, but I wanted to post at least one of them. Last week’s would have made an awesome entry because about two miles from my home, I found a lake. Really — that’s the kind of thing that happens when you live in The Swamp. You turn down a dirt road and at the end, beyond the barricades saying “No Vehicles Beyond This Point,” you find a lake.

I didn’t have a camera, though, so instead you get the previous Explore, where I learned something about starvation.

I took a bike path through the local park, which I’d Explored last summer. While biking, I found an opening in the woods.

Back in New York, by the way, I used to do stupid things like dismount and walk into the brambles and reeds at the back of Seaview Park, not entirely realizing someone might be hiding back there and the cops wouldn’t find my body for months. Angelborough is less scary, so what I did next was less stupid.

Just inside the woods, I found the remnants of a rock wall, and immediately behind that, a tremendous pine tree.

I can’t begin to estimate the age of the tree, but I imagine it saw the birth of that rock wall, back when Angelborough really was a swamp and we still thought of ourselves as a British colony. Standing beneath it, I could inhale the passage of time. It was so quiet, but not still in a frightening way. Instead I thought maybe I was the only one who’d come through here for weeks. I was the only one there to see this tree.

A few steps further in, I found this:

It’s a dead tree. Nothing special, right? But then I realized how much smaller it was than the surrounding trees. And after a while I realized, it was light-starved. With the crowns of so many pines interlocked overhead, it had done the best it could with what little light penetrated, but in the end it perished. It had plenty of food and water, but no light — no life.

There’s something to that. We all bring light into our lives in different ways. Yes, faith is one way, but light comes in so many forms: art, laughter, friendship, education, and so on. Like the tree, we can have everything we need, but without that light in our lives, we begin dying inside.

Then my New Yorker sensibilities kicked in, and I left that isolated place.

Before I left, I turned and said, “Thank you.” I don’t know why. It felt right.


  1. Ken Rolph

    There’s an ecological principle called the limiting factor. It’s a version of the old engineering principle that a chain is only as strong as its weakest link. Or as my engineer uncles used to say, a paling fence is only as good as the weakest paling.

    A lmting factor could be anything: light, water, any of the nutrients. It doesn’t matter how much of everything else is in good supply, the growth will never rise above the availability of the limiting factor.

    I find it interesting that you have chosen to focus on light. You derive life lessons from it by spiritualising and sentimentalising it. That’s not a very Australian approach. We would choose to focus on water. Water as the life sustaining liquid gold. We have enough light. Our bush is full of light and the plants don’t limit its presence. In fact, many have narrow drooping leaves that hand down so that the light runs off them without sucking out too much water.

    I can see that you think you are offering a universal experience and lesson here, but you are really speaking from inside your own environment. Which in a way has its own limiting factors.

    1. philangelus

      You’re absolutely right about this: I live in a place where water is in abundance (as here: and light is not. And yes, I spiritualize/sentimentalize the sensory input I get from the world.

      In your case, you could write the same post about a plant that died of thirst because the plants around it crowded it out, but the same point would be made: our souls need to be fed. Universals aren’t always universal, of course, but human beings have intangible needs, and we fail to meet them only at the cost of our humanity.

  2. Ken Rolph

    Universals are particular. That’s why writing novels works. Anyone can read a story set in a particular time and a particular place and identify with it as a person.