The sky is teeming with stars but we kill it with our light. I never knew this until the power cuts. In the middle of the night when the storm had risen up, gale-force winds cracking against the windows, a wind buffets through the house and I feel the panes expand and contract as though they were sails and malleable like that for an instance, of a ship.
When I arrive in Orkney by ferry, on the island of Burray where we live, what strikes me is the silence.
The lack of hum from the planes and pollution, or sirens and tarmac being sped across by vehicles. It is never silent but how I imagine silence should sound. Underwritten by the purring immensity of the waves and broken by gulls and birdsong in the day.
It’s revealing for a city-dweller like me, filled with hubris, to not only see but hear Nature and how vast and unpredictable she is. Never having to endure frightful storms in the city, ones that blow the power cables out from right beneath you, and blot the street lights out completely. Torches and candles, firelighters and smoke detectors. Grubby coaled fingers. Hushed scramble.
At 1 a.m. I heard a thunderclap so loud that it shuddered through my skin and rose me out of bed. Flick the light switch on but nothing and so there was nothing. In my flimsy nightgown I walk the corridor to the porch where it’s all panes of glass and the sea close by and I peer around the island. Electricity is dead and the sky is lighting up instead.
Sheet lightning is what you would use in a film for utmost dramatic effect, because for once light does not shine up but is a blanket that comes down. Cascading all over the scene in one fell crash, lighting up every crevice and exhuming every shadow. A flash this bright and all-round emboldens angles and crooked edges, flattening out empty land, so to a loner wide-eyed looking out at open space the thought flickers of how frightened one would be if the next illumination defined the outline of a figure standing there, where there was nothing a moment before.
When the storm had passed I stayed fixed to the spot by curiosity and fear. This was silence. The air had been smashed out by thunder. I walked outside to feel the alien calmness, the winds had dropped and I couldn’t decipher the sea. Looking up I gawped at the stars and stars and more stars. Tiny million flecks like a detailed map and brighter larger ones too, they sparkle who knew, really that these lights were there all along dampened by the smog and 24-hour shop.
I stopped. And in the cold I spoke a gasp each time more stars opened up to me. I never wanted the lights to come back on and that’s when I learnt power cuts are nice.