I walked out into the fields at dark the other night. Partly I was curious to see what the path I run almost every day was like after sundown, and partly I wanted to face, even in passing, some of those fears of darkness that seem ingrained in us. The town’s development ends at a rounded curve where the path begins – or ends, depending which way you’re going. The path is mostly paved but not lit. At a turn, I veered off the pavement. I watched my step through cornstalk stubble, the field having recently been shaved. I heard a splash in the fieldedge irrigation ditch; I suspect it was a nutria spooked by my arrival. [Nutria are rodents the size of small beavers that live in waterways, marshes, bayous, swamps, and the like.]
The path is technically a road, connecting our town with an outlying village, the frazione of Mulazzana, and so is used by cars, mopeds, tractors, threshers, trucks, bicycles, tillers, walkers, runners, and other sundry motorized farm equipment. And nutria, though they usually cross it transversely from one ditch to another. That night, a few cars passed, sweeping the fields with their headlights, traveling in a little globe of light visible from quite a distance across the flat landscape.
I saw stars, though not as many as I had hoped. The glow of Codogno behind me and the streetlights along the autostrada cast an often-overlooked pollution into the sky. The cloud ribbons above looked almost like dull versions of the Northern Lights, and I thought of a friend in Alaska who is probably a loosescrew bodhisattva. I thought also of a mountain ridgeline east of Seattle in the North Cascades.
Gazing up at a starry sky reminds me of Frost again and another thing I feel to be true: we need wilderness. In his famous letter in defense of wilderness, Wallace Stegner quoted the writer Sherwood Anderson, “I can remember old fellows in my home town speaking feelingly of an evening spent on the big empty plains. It had taken the shrillness out of them. They had learned the trick of quiet...." The rectilinear farms around Codogno do not have much directly in common with big empty plains or the great tracts of wilderness in the west of the United States. This part of Lombardy feels much more like Kansas than Vermont or Oregon, but, as for Stegner, the idea that wild areas exist is some consolation to me.
People have been living in the area around Codogno for over 2500 years, but the fields at night feel at least one step closer to wild than my balcony above the street. These fields, as well as the bici vecchia culture, have lessons on the trick of quiet. Hope you’re finding some in your nape of the way as well.