In the navy blue of just dark, the headlights illuminate only a few feet in front of the car. The high beams give shadows to the rocks on the road directly in front of the tires in outlandish proportion to their size, but the hundred-foot pines on the other side of the ditch remain invisible. Behind me, the full moon is but a promise, not even a tease of her liquid silver light yet spilling over the horizon.
Just as I feel myself begin to lean into the bad curve, the arc of road where the beavers dam the creek every winter and the big aluminum culvert may or may not forestall the washing out of the road, a pair of yellow eyes appear at the lip where hard-packed dirt falls away to soft ditch. The eyes are too low to be deer, too high to be possum or armadillo. They have to be raccoon or fox and it is too late, too dark for a fox to be out. Raccoon it must be.
I take my foot off the accelerator and feel the car slow as the lights pans the bend. The raccoon is standing on his haunches, tiny paws drawn up to his chest as though in supplication. He is young. I can tell by his leanness and the fact that his mask isn’t very dark.
The number of raccoons, deer, possums, armadillos, foxes and bobcats I have encountered on this dark stretch of road over the years is not one I can begin to compute, but I do know that every single one of them has behaved in exactly the same way: They have darted into the light. This one will, too.
So I wait.
He twitches. He jerks his head back and forth a couple of times. He makes a quarter-turn toward the ditch and, just as I am about to believe that this raccoon, this one creature out of all the creatures, will behave in a manner contrary to instinct and move back into the darkness, he bolts out into the center of the road where the two yellow cones of light coming from the front of the car frame him like an escaping prisoner caught against the razor wire.
Another infinitesimal hesitation and he is gone. Into the blackness that is the ditch on the other side of the road, into the night where just moments before he had been moving safely and leisurely.
The idea that light is safety is a generally accepted axiom of life. Most of what we fear is that which we cannot see. With light comes vision, with light comes a banishing of fear. And, yet, at least sometimes, as with the raccoon, the urge to rush into light — to know everything, to be blind to nothing — does little more than invite danger and expose vulnerability.
This is what I am thinking as I accelerate once more and head toward home. It makes me shudder. I am a light-seeker. I navigate by looking for the sun to rise in the east and set in the west, by watching the stars. Feeling my way in the dark is not my way.
And now the raccoon is making me wonder: Is this the choice we must make? Do we choose to remain safe and in the dark, stumbling around over roots and rocks, chairs and coffee tables, ill-fitting jobs and passionless relationships? Or do we choose to become vulnerable and step in the light, exposed for all the world to see as small and fragile creatures, willing to challenge large and frightening beasts because life in the dark is not enough?
As I near home I notice that I can now make out the road yards and yards ahead, far beyond the reach of the headlights. The moon, round and ripe, is clearing the horizon. Through the brushy limbs of distant pines I see her clear face and feel her long slender fingers stroke my shoulder. Perhaps the choice is not what I had thought. Perhaps it is not light or dark. Perhaps it is not a choice at all, but simply a learning that there is light within the darkness, a place where courage is respected, where fearlessness can be safe, where vulnerability is protected.
I go inside to bed and leave the blinds open. The moonlight puddles on the floor.