Thursday, August 24, 2006

Most songs played at work leave me with a non-exaggerated case of post-factum shell shock, but a rare exception is the late Eva Cassidy's folksy Penny to My Name. Like all the other songs, it got stuck in my head, namely Cassidy's lament, "I never seen the city lights/How they must shine so bright". By contrast, "the sky's black as coal" above her remote, crushingly poor country home. The experience for me is the total opposite, having lived only in Toronto and Lahore with the odd trip outside, and anything near total darkness is just scary.

I was never one to notice the stars until a first-year astronomy course I took to fulfil the need for a science credit. The only thing I took away was that, apparently, you could go into the country and see a bunch of stars. Coupled with the mystery of year-round life in a remote location, be it northern Ontario or the mountain villages of Pakistan, I have an immense fascination with small towns. Penny to My Name didn't really have any meaning to me until I went for a run late last night.

Sheepishly, I can now tell you that the lights are so non-existent in Malton, itself a backwards small town in the heart of the Greater Toronto Area, that the stars come out and stay, precariously close. I'm sure the same is true for any vantage point in the suburbs, but the darkness is especially complete in Malton. The small town feel is reinforced by a near-complete absence of anything to do in Malton. At the end of each working day, the options are to walk home from the bus depot, go for a walk or sit on your porch. There are no restaurants, coffee shops, movie theatres, cultural attractions or really anything that could even loosely be termed 'somewhere to go'.

Stalking along the sidewalk, the quiet and the darkness work together so that every sound is audible and every action is visible. Conversations can be heard from houses, cars can be heard from around the corner and distant headlights behind me light up the night like the sun. I have run at night before, I have run the route hundreds of times, but desolate, poorly lit neighbourhoods offer this small wonder. A reasonable facsimile of darkness is good enough with the song in my head. Watching the Big Dipper all the way with a pathetic fascination, I enjoy the solitude and the parallel to a poor, desperate place frozen in time but still with charms.

No comments: