Pregnant Pause

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Issue 323
November/December 2020
Life in the Dark

Undercurrents
Night Sky

Pregnant Pause
by

issue cover 323

Cover: Moon Moths © Becca Stadtlander, 2020. Exclusively licensed by thebrightagency.com

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Tiffany Francis-Baker finds respite in darkness.

Heather by Laurie Hastings www.lauriehastings.com

Heather by Laurie Hastings www.lauriehastings.com

One winter, we flew to the western shores of India to escape the lethargy of Britain in late February. Each day the temperature climbed to 30 °C, and we spent our time slicing through the streets on a dusty moped, past stray dogs, and cows adorned with flowers, our senses consumed by sunlight and spiced turmeric. It was a beautiful and chaotic place, but every night, almost defeated by the noise and heat of the day, we would wander down to the shore and swim in the wild Arabian Sea.

The waves pushed down in an endless rhythm, arriving and departing, embracing and withdrawing. We tried to stand against their force, running to meet them as they swept up and crashed down onto the shore, but resistance was pointless. We were thrown into the water and carried back to the sand like driftwood. Trying to stand against the tide was like trying to stop time; better to float through it, uncontrolled, and embrace the rhythm of the moon-powered water. We relaxed our bodies, and the sea lifted us high into the air and back down to Earth, ready to repeat that eternal cycle again and again.

I still think of those darkling sea swims on warm nights. This summer, I walked into the garden to bring the dogs in and felt as though someone were shining a spotlight on me. I looked up and met the gaze of a full moon, white and round, pouring down onto the Earth. To stumble upon a full moon when you’re not expecting it is one of Nature’s greatest tricks – a double-take moment – the genuine shock that something not powered by electricity can be so potent and compelling. It becomes difficult to leave, to step out of the moonglow and retreat indoors to your brick and mortar bed. Something in that milky light calls out to our wilder selves.

In 2019, my book Dark Skies was published, inspired by a year exploring the landscape at night to see how we connect with Nature after dark. (See ‘The Tranquillity of Darkness’, Resurgence & Ecologist Issue 316.) The idea came to me after spending an evening walking over Butser Hill, one of the highest and darkest points of the South Downs National Park, where I live. I loved the peace and solitude of being alone in the wild at night. In our anthropocentric world, to walk beneath the night sky reminds us of our place in the universe, and that we are only one species in an ecosystem of billions. We may be largely diurnal, but to spend time outdoors after nightfall is a natural behaviour we can all benefit from. It’s a chance to break out of our comfort zones and liberate ourselves from the idea that the nightscape is a place for other creatures to enjoy without us.

This year, my relationship with the night took a different turn. My third trimester of pregnancy began around Beltain, the Celtic May Day festival that takes place halfway between the spring equinox and the summer solstice. The pandemic put an end to the usual Beltain celebrations I enjoy at Butser Ancient Farm on the Hampshire/Sussex border, where each year I watch, cider in hand, as a 30-foot wicker man burns to the ground. But at least the lockdown weather was joyful. In fact, we were treated to a week or two of such high temperatures that I imagined I was back in India again. As lovely as it was, my usual afternoon dog-walks became impossible with increasingly squashed lungs, raised body temperature and a growing belly, so instead I waited until after sunset to stretch my legs and feel my heart pulsing down to the new human growing inside me. The night was cool against my skin, a welcome respite from the heat of the day. And there in the sky, caught in a glittering veil of stars, the moon lingered on to light my path.

There has long been a connection between women and the night sky, whether it’s in mythology, folklore, medicine or astrology. The moon itself is a feminine symbol, representing the rhythm of time and the eternal nature of life’s cycles, as well as encouraging us to embrace the darker side of the universe. In pregnancy, I felt connected to Nature in an entirely different way – the sensation of life passing through me, of growing something new. But at night, without the noise and chaos of modern life to distract me, my late-pregnancy nightwalks became a source of energy. There in the dark, I could absorb the sound of invisible bats over my head, the scent of damp grass, the velvet slip of shadow on my skin. And when I finally returned home and left the darkness at the door, I felt refuelled, recharged. A creature of night and day, nurturing both and recoiling from neither.

A BEGINNER’S GUIDE TO NIGHTWALKING

Remember to wrap up warmly no matter the season. It’s surprising how quickly the temperature drops after the sun goes down. A flask of hot chocolate or coffee will also help keep the cold at bay.

If plunging into pitch darkness alone sounds unnerving, start small. Invite a friend and visit your nightwalk location in daylight first to make sure you know your way around. Landscapes change in the dark, so look out for landmarks that will still be visible by starlight.

Take a fully charged smartphone if possible, as you never know when you might need a map or a built-in torch. You can download a stargazing app to identify constellations, or a birdsong app to identify different owl calls.

Nightwalks are the perfect way to get closer to Nature, so to avoid scaring away more elusive species tread softly, whisper quietly and keep artificial lights to a minimum.

Tiffany Francis-Baker’s book, Dark Skies (Bloomsbury) is the subject of the Resurgence Book Club on 25 November 2020. An author Q&A will be followed by a book club chat. For more information: www.resurgence.org/magazine/book-club.html

Tiffany Francis-Baker is a Nature writer and artist. www.tiffanyfrancis.com

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