It’s been three years since I snapped (and then blogged) this photo of the clock in downtown Keene: proof that in New Hampshire in November, darkness really does fall well before 7:00 pm. Now that winter is in the wings, the nights are growing increasingly long. If you like taking pictures after dark, these days you’ll find plenty of opportunities.
Sep 22, 2009
It was too dark for birdsong this morning when Reggie and I set out on our 6:00 walk, the only sound being that of crickets calling from beyond the warm circle of light puddling at the base of every streetlight. Only on the walk back home, after the sky had lightened to a smudgy gray, did I hear the first stirring birds: a calling crow, a screaming blue jay, and an incongruously yodeling rooster from someone’s backyard coop.
The title of today’s post is also recycled from 2007, but the post itself is ink-wet fresh from the pages of this morning’s journal entry.
Dec 3, 2007
Last week I ventured out after dark to see Into the Wild at the Colonial Theatre here in Keene. That my going to a movie after dark merits a blog post is saying something. It’s been a long time since I’ve taken myself to a movie, much less a movie after dark. I’ve never been much for night life.
I first read Jon Krakauer’s Into the Wild not long after it was published in 1996, and since the spring of 2001, I’ve taught the book at least once–typically several times–a year in my “American Literature of the Open Road” class. When you’ve repeatedly read and taught a particular book, you become intimately acquainted with both its storyline and the way its story unfolds. I don’t have to refer to my note-riddled copy, for instance, to know the character of Ronald Franz appears in Chapter 6, a handful of Alaskan wanderers meet their individual deaths in Chapter 8, and Krakauer tells the story of Everett Ruess in Chapter 9. Having lectured and led discussions on those particular passages several times, I can find them in my well-thumbed copy almost without looking. When you’ve repeated read and taught a particular book, you come to know its nuances by heart, the pace of its narrative seeming as familiar to you as your own walking stride.
I first set foot in downtown Keene in the summer of 2001 when I interviewed for a full-time adjunct position here. I’ve previously told the story of how I instantly fell in love with Keene’s quaint downtown, knowing from first sight (and first stride) that I’d feel at home both teaching and living here. In the years since the summer of 2001, I’ve done a lot of walking here in Keene, so I feel the same intimacy with her downtown streets and sidewalks as I do with an oft-read book. Although I can’t tell you the addresses or even necessarily the names of various downtown businesses I’ve passed on nearly daily basis for years, I can see with my mind’s eye the goods they display in the shop-windows I’ve admired and photographed time and again. Why do I need to keep looking at shop-windows I’ve seen countless times before? Why do you re-read a beloved book when you know exactly how that book will end?
I knew when I walked into the Colonial Theatre last week that the Hollywood version of a book I nearly know by heart was destined to disappoint. How could anyone else’s depiction of a story I know and have repeatedly taught match the imaginary visuals in my own head? At every point where Sean Penn’s screenplay fed voice-overs of Jon Krakauer’s narrative into the mouth of protagonist Chris McCandless’ sister, Carine, I winced. “Too much exposition,” I found myself thinking. In Krakauer’s book, Carine doesn’t narrate her brother’s story; in Krakauer’s book, McCandless’ parents aren’t depicted with almost cartoonish simplicity, the “bad guys” who drive Chris into the Alaskan solitude where he dies.
In Krakauer’s book, you know from the beginning that Chris McCandless ends up dead in an abandoned Alaskan bus–Krakauer tells you as much on the cover of the book’s first paperback edition. In Krakauer’s book, what keeps you reading isn’t the question of what happens to Chris but the gradual unfolding of the mystery of why. Unlike Sean Penn’s movie, Krakauer’s book isn’t only about Chris McCandless; it’s also about how one writer discovered and pieced together Chris McCandless’ story. In the film version of Into the Wild, this meta-narrative is abandoned in favor of hagiography: Chris McCandless becomes an undeniable Hero, the story of his passion and death not a mystery to be solved but a gospel to be imparted.
I knew when I left my apartment last week to walk to a movie after dark I’d encounter a whole other world even before I entered the theatre. Walking by night streets and sidewalks you regularly walk by day is like watching the Hollywood version of an oft-read story you’ve always imagined for yourself. What is this setting, these props, these characters in a place I thought I knew? After dark, Keene is a narrative I’ve barely skimmed, its stories as strange as strangers met and passed in silence. Having taught in Keene since the autumn of 2001 and having lived here since the summer of 2003, I still don’t know Keene by dead of night. There’s more than a touch of mystery still to the same old place viewed in a different (lack of) light.
This is my belated contribution to the Photo Friday theme Dead of Night. This week promises to be busy as my classes at both Keene State and Granite State College enter their final week. While I’m grading late into the Dead of Night this week, blogging here will probably be light. That’s another way of saying this blog might temporarily go dark, but don’t worry. Things that are dark aren’t necessarily dead.