Finding the balance point of the fridge door so it sits, swinging neither in nor out.
Foreseeing the fall of a biscuit tin lid with a well placed foot.
Knowing which of the floorboards still resist creak.
Holding the lock of the door at just the threshold that it slides and not clicks.
All in darkness.
These are some of the perceptive/reflexive sensibilities that I’ve been honing and refining over the years without ever really been aware of it.. They were, afterall, practised only out of necessity, with the sole intention of keeping the zzzs flowing from a certain room upstairs as my midnight feasts went on. The context is mundane indeed, but looking on it now, I think those regular expeditions from bed to fridge in the early hours were nurturing something of importance.
There had (I realise now) been a certain pride in the progression, the mastering of the routine, and a growing anticipation to use these sensibilities in other more public engagements (There’s nothing so sweet as lending the saving grip to a falling family heirloom, or saving the sausage from the sand at a beach bbq). But as much as the home offered in terms of regular practise, lesser known environments became the true training ground. Naturally, faculties are tested more steeply when navigating unfamiliar terrain – traversing the Devon moors in the dead of night for example was a sure way to sharpen my nocturnal visual acuity. Sensing the relationship between objects in space – branches, path verges, rock falls – with no artificial light to guide the way.
These kinds of sensibilities are rarely used now, as our tools are sophisticated enough to do our bidding for us. In this case, the flick of a switch would’ve lessened the degree of strain and focus required and served an improvement to what I otherwise had on my own.
Can’t see. Can see. Can’t see. Can see.
In truth, it is an oddity that anyone should want to resort to the lacky alternative. But, there’s something more important here at stake I think. These tools essentially serve as a replacement for body and mind; with continued use, neural and physiological faculties (like the visual reflex) are neglected, and we become dependent and content.
To remaster them might require some conscious neglect of certain tools from time to time. Out on the road in Australia, where our evening activities often call for torch light, I decide again to take a shot on the dark. I so quickly find my fingers gravitating toward the phone as we move items to and from the camper in pitch black darkness – preparing, cooking and eating, even moreso. With the necessary relief in arms reach the entire time, it would often seem a fruitless task… But wait a little while with the blunders and temptation and you start to see the pleasure in restraint. As I adjust and focus to the surrounding environment, out emerges a host of new responses to the conundrum of darkness. Attentiveness to space and physicality are the resource in place of light, offering sharp sensibility and nimble workarounds to every task that needs to be served.
Cooking rice requires an added focus on consistency in place of sight.
Assessing the water level has me tapping a spoon to the pan base and then touching for where the heat begins.
Breaking eggs into the frying pan requires a trust in my intuition as to where it falls.
Again suitably mundane, but there’s pride in every little conquest when the only thing serving you is your basic physical resource. Ofcourse, the principle has applied to more exerting tasks also.. After a recent sunset shoot on the peak of mt ngungan, a moonless descent in darkness saw the observable rocky trails dissolve into hazy patterns barely conceivable to the naked eye. Instead of reaching for a torch, I thought again of the Devon Moors, and adapted by shifting my gait, softening my touch, prefacing each footfall with light heel knocks, and recalling the motions from the ascent. James adopted a more cerebral workaround, mentally mapping the distances between different steps and preparing himself accordingly. Both of us got down without a slip or a hitch. And all the more contented for it.
As the world fires like a bullet through this technological revolution, we find the trigger often fires without having ever asked the shooter. Ease and efficiency seems to be the evermoving target, assuming the aim of progress until the target and the aim become entirely indistinct from one another. Our horizon of possibilities becomes blurred from our sight, like staring at a thing for so long that everything around becomes an incomprehensible haze.
What alternative horizons can we look to aim for? For one, do we have a responsibility to conserve and harness some of our more primal sensibilities? Or will we be content to pass the torch entirely to the tools of our intelligence? I can speak only for myself, and I’ve found the independence liberating, freed for a moment from the whiffs and whims of a tech insatiable society, to some semblance of a connection with a more essential way of life.
Or perhaps, 18 years on, I’m still just trying to live out a dream of being daredevil…
Update* I’ll leave with a thought I recently came across from Ruskin. There is dreaming enough, and earthiness enough, and sensuality enough in human existence, without our turning the few glowing moments of it into mechanism; and since our life must at the best be but a vapour that appears for a little time and then vanishes away, let it least appear as a cloud in the height of heaven, not as the thick darkness that broods over the blast of the furnace, and rolling of the wheel.
Thanks for looking! If you enjoyed this post, consider following our blog – there’s lots more coming in our 5 month globetrotting adventure.