In many parts of the world it’s Earth Hour most of the time.
As I prepared for the 8 o’clock lights-out Saturday night, I thought back to the best two months of my life, spent in a tropical village that had only recently become electrically connected.
In this remote town on a forested mountain in Trinidad, electricity was used the way they had used oil lamps: briefly, cozily after sunset, as the babies and very old people were settled into bed.
The only Canadian, I kept a later schedule than most. As the equatorial dark descended at 6, I ate a good supper made by my landlady, a granny who fed all her adult kids. By then everyone was settling in, putting their houses in order, slowing down.
I always took a walk after dinner to marvel at the stars and the fireflies. I’d watch for that northward-moving light, the plane to Canada that would carry me home soon, too soon.
At 8, I was the last to bed. All was not peaceful. The pandemonium of booming frogs and howling dogs was as raucous as the traffic and air conditioners in downtown Toronto, but provoked much stranger dreams.
It was a hard landing descending onto the asphalt of T.O. in a grey, frigid February. I understood better why we run so hard, even, with all our privilege, struggle so hard. Canada’s February air is a constant slap in the face.
Pure sensory deprivation drew me to bright lights, gleaming objects and strong coffee. There are limits to how harmonious life can be when the sun rides the southern horizon for a few hours a day and no food grows for half the year. We need to resist the elements to survive, but we’ve taken it way too far. Preparing for Earth Hour, I remembered the careful movements of my Trinidad mom as she readied her house for darkness. Recalling the single oil lamp that her non-electrified neighbours lit at dusk, I didn’t even use all the candles I’d set out.
My roommate and I shared our one-pot dinner and our candlelight with a neighbour. When Earth Hour was over, it wasn’t hard to decide which electrical appliance was essential.
Three people, three hours, a few candles, one CD player.
We’ll do it again soon.
Driven to darkness
It’s Earth Hour eve and I’m on my way to a birthday celebration. The plan is to play acoustic music in candlelight during the hour of darkness.
Okay, I admit I’m in the car, but that’s the only way to transport the instruments and our assigned food contribution to our friends’ house.
As our hosts are setting up and the clock ticks perilously close to 8 pm, my partner utters one of those classic gasps of panic. “Oh no!” she says. “I left the light on at home. We have to turn it off!”
“I’ll drive back if you want,” I allow, but I wonder, “From an eco perspective, what’s worse, starting the car and puking out more shit into the environment or leaving the light on and looking like idiots?”
“This is a particular moment,” she responds. “I know it’s symbolic, but I want us to be part of it.”
So I turn on the ignition, leave my carbon footprint all over the road, return to our house to find not one, but two lights still on. I check every room to make sure everything’s turned off and return to the festivities.
As the sun fully sets and the drums and guitars come out I look out the front windows and admit that, though buildings out front are not entirely dark, they’re definitely a lot dimmer.
But out back, the house directly behind has wrecked everything. Almost every light is ablaze, and the house is so big, it obscures everyone else’s attempts to honour this key consciousness moment.
“Asshole,” I mutter, outraged.
Checking my own reaction, I realize it’s a good thing I made the trip back home.
What would the neighbours have thought?
SUSAN G. COLE
Sharing the shadows
We often represent goodness as “the light,” but last weekend, in a spirited reversal, it was “darkness” that became goodwill, concern.
I’d just had a bit of a dark hour here in my new home.When you move into a new neighbourhood, getting to know the locals can take years. If there are no official greeters, no welcome wagon, what do you do? At the very least you take it casual – wait and see who you run into.
In the meantime, most everyone around you is to some degree a stranger, and all the cop shows and murky stereotypes lurk in the mind, distorting the landscape.
I introduced myself to my immediate neighbour and we exchanged friendly looks and a handshake, but he speaks another language so I wasn’t sure how well we’d connected. I’d been lying low since then, feeling a bit like “the other,” wondering who’s who and who’s wondering who I am.
Then it’s Earth Hour. What a bonding moment when 8 o’clock comes and all those strange other houses start going dark. Outside, one of the teenagers from next door executes a perfect kickflip on his skateboard. He’s from the family whose elders speak no English.
I introduce myself; he’s totally sweet and tells me, “It’s cool that you guys are taking part in Earth Hour.” All right! His family is, too. They’ve taken the time to let the necessary darkness into their lives – a darkness I’m very glad to be sharing. And now that I think of it, not just with them, but with that wider realm of neighbours all over the switch-flipping biosphere. Hey, dark is the new light.