As the nighttime expands with the season, it opens up more time for dreams when I am awake. In earlier times, our ancestors likely used the longer hours by the light of the fire to imagine what they saw hinted at in the flames or in the shadows they cast. It was a time for storytelling and adventures of the imagination. It is similar, I suppose, for me even in a time of electric lights and computers.
I’ve noticed for years that Autumn is the richest time for my creativity; in terms of writing and visual art. I find myself sitting quietly more often. I notice myself running off into narratives that form storylines. Some of these find their way through the mediation of my mind onto paper or computer screen.
Sometimes I catch a whiff of wood smoke from one of the apartments near me that has a fireplace or stove. It pulls my thoughts towards memories of campfires and cool nights sharing stories with my companions. Those nights during which we imagined — or reimagined — our stories together made a deep impression upon my thoughts and memories. The tracks of those imaginings reappear years later when I am not looking for them; casting a magical sense of surprise and wonder over their rediscovery.
I can recall, for instance, a late summer (not technically autumn yet) camping trip to Shenandoah when I was still in my twenties. The air was humid, but cool, and the woodsmoke hung low and stung our eyes. The scent saturated everything. Nevertheless, patches of stars revealed themselves at regular intervals. It seemed to me, and to my friend travelling with me, that our time, and a time long ago, were blending in that moment. It seemed, also, that we were not alone. We could feel the presence and thoughts of others — like murmurs of conversation — that seemed ancient, distant, and somehow right upon us.
I wondered to myself if they could sense us as well. Was that what they were murmuring about? Did they have a sense of a reality different from that which they knew by ‘normal’ light of day?
There are many people I know who have little or no experience of dark nights out of doors. They seem bored by stories of time spent by a campfire. They are frightened — but not thrilled — by tales of hearing animals moving about at the edge of the light. Yet, this is the wonder I recognize even on dark nights spent writing at my desk in Brooklyn. It is an echo of something much more powerful. It is an echo of the waking dreams conjured by the campfire light and shadows.
During these dark months of the year, I often keep light to a minimum. I know that my imagination needs the connection to the shadows and those things I can sense but not see. It is a time of year that gives more opportunity to my waking mind to commune with what the unconscious mind knows as its truest reality. And, by meeting the world of shadows and unseen things, I am able to better connect with the part of me that lives there — I am better able to be whole.
Perhaps, if we chose, as societies of this age, to rediscover the meeting of worlds at the campfire, we might be able to imagine better worlds instead of having nightmares chase us into our waking days. If we found the courage to ‘play’ with the shadows and unseen things, we might learn to face our fears and make fewer monsters for ourselves. We might use our creativity to give birth to beauty in this world. I think so.