For several consecutive days I climb at night. The full moon is gone and the nights are plunged into shadow. Always the sky has a kind of dark glow, stars scattered across it like handfuls of luminous sand, but everything beneath, deprived of moonlight, is black. I turn out all the lights on the tree side of the house and venture out into the night with hands stretched out, feeling my way off the porch and across the driveway and lawn.
The trees around me rear up against the sky and stars like primal gods or monsters, jagged or rounded or branching thrustings-up of a blackness so dense, so palpable, that it presses against the eyeball like some kind of cottony mass. It is visceral; it clings. It fills all the space between, like something with mass. I look up at the stars. The Milky Way streams from the top of the tree. But around me the darkness is almost palpable, as though you could lean against it. I grope for the ladder among the saplings at the edge of the woods for a few moments, and am chagrined to find that I am a dozen feet to the left of it among the blackberry brambles. I back up onto the lawn and drift sideways, feeling for an opening. I find the ladder a foot or two in and make my way up it.
As I climb I look upwards and see a handful of stars here and there in the gaps between the leaves. In winter when the branches are bare, the stars are in their full glory, blazoning down in force, branches and twigs laying black lines against their brilliant tapestry. But now they can only cluster in the openings to peer in.
I climb by touch alone, and it becomes almost unavoidably a caressing sort of business. When you’ve got nothing else to go on but feel, you feel. You glide a hand along a branch when you find it, you lean against the reassuring trunk. You rub the bark and lichens, and that sensation, along with the pressure of foot on branch, is the only thing going on in your world. It magnifies, and fills the void.
From my high place, I look out at the black silhouette of the hills against the faintly luminous sky and its uncountable stars.
As my eyes adjust, I see the barest hint of shapes around me, just suggestions of darkness against the dark; but looking downwards there is only utter and uniform blackness. An abyss. I start down into it. It is more difficult than climbing up; for some reason it is harder to find branches below you than above, and harder with feet than with hands. I lower myself down and hang in the darkness, feeling around for a branch with my feet. Occasionally I find one unexpectedly with shin or knee. And again. And again. The lower in the tree I go the fewer openings there are through which to see sky and stars. It is like climbing down into a well. The deep well of the wood.
And then I am down and on the lawn, and standing with my head thrown back, gazing up at Cassiopeia and the Big Dipper and the bright, dusty ribbon of the Milky Way.
And then back to the house.