People don’t bother with you on this street. You get your ‘hellos’ and go about your day. It can be quiet in the way of social chatter, but more than makes up for it in traffic. We have a road right outside our doorway. Eighteen wheelers drive by and it sounds like a tank barreling through the city. In my backyard, as well as on the other side of the white chain-link fence, are two train tracks. The train runs and makes a lot of noise, although I hardly notice the one going through my backyard. Further passed the train tracks, someone revs his engine all night long, either performing testing on his automobiles or trying to piss off the rest of us. He does a fine job of both, either way.
There isn’t much to see here, unless you enjoy watching traffic, either from cars or trains on their way to distant worlds. You can see the skyline of Albany from your porch, although you’re looking through electrical lines. If you look above all that mess, at least on this night, you see blue clouds shifting to purple. They move along, like the traffic. I see them coming in darker and darker. I see purple clouds just over the horizon. This city exemplifies the phrase ‘life passing you by’. All the clamor of engines, tires against pavement, steel dragging heavy locomotives to distant worlds that most of us will never see. We remain. We live in the city where everything passes and nothing stays.
I’m writing about this night, because of the storm. It brought on something I’ve never seen. It was a beautiful sight that can only come from reverence of that natural force that guides everything in the universe. Call it what you want, but it works better without a label. On this night this most benevolent forced called the bugs to dance around the streetlights and perform ritual sacrifices. I’ve only seen a few Praying Mantises in my life. I’ve always thought they were cool looking and had to study them for a while whenever they crossed my path. For whatever reason, there have been dozens of these things all around our city. They came out of nowhere and flooded our streets. They flew around and you couldn’t tell what the massive blobs of green were, until they landed on your car or dangled from a tree.
Along the stretch of white fence, the streetlights shine just as bright as any other road, but something has happened to two of them that makes them shut off for about thirty seconds to a minute. The two at the far sides, one to the North and the other to the South, always remain on. It’s the two in the middle that take turns shutting down. It happens in succession, where one will go out and then another.
In the height of the Praying Mantises growth, the creatures would fly around these brilliant orbs of light, as if they represented some celestial force that moved everything into place. When one light went out they’d go to another and so on and so forth. Beetles and other bugs joined in, although some were made into ritual sacrifices. Others, the mantises allowed to dance in honor of the brilliant light, at least for the time. The bugs cannibalized each other. Mantises ate beetles, beetles ate anything smaller, anything smaller drank the blood of my neighbors. It’s one great big cycle that, no matter who we are, we’re a part of.
Everyone’s enjoying the festival of carnal pleasure, until, in one perfect flux, the light goes out for the entire street. It’s not something terribly significant to any of us, but to the praying mantises and for me, it became an ordeal worth further documentation. It took a keen eye to see what happened to all those bugs floating around that radiant essence. They scattered so fast it was hard to tell that they were still there. The light still burned in my eyes. I could see the little black dots against the backdrop of darkness. It might’ve been just an illusion, but it seemed the bugs were trying to remain as still as possible. They scattered and fled in terror. The festival was over and the time to hide from predators was upon them. Trees stood beneath the lights in great bushels. They could fall into the canopies and get lost, hopefully, to avoid any danger. If they made it in time they could wait out the storm and pray for the light to return.
The storm came in with rain and long, white bursts of lightning. They felt so close and hit with such a loud impact that the power went out. Everything went dark. My neighborhood was forced to watch the sacred display. Whatever force it is that guides us in this world, it wanted us to see. Darkness washed over the land. It took with it all forms of life. In that moment, the world was dead. The coffin closed. We breathed into the dirt and darkness ate the remains. You don’t realize what you make of yourself when you’re lights are always on. You become a target. When you’re out in the darkness is when you’re free. It represents something in our psyche, something primordial, something we fear. I think it’s more that ‘return to darkness’ that we fear. Humanity’s come along way from hunting for survival. The light is something we own now, instead of it owning us. It’s become our greatest mission. Humanity is responsible for protecting the light.
When order restored, as it always does, the bugs rejoiced. The mantises returned, dancing around the light. They ate each other, they performed ritualistic orgies of blood and sexuality for which humanity could never understand. That part of us died with the dinosaurs. Such desperation is animal. Something we’ve forgotten. If only the lights would go out. Every light, every television, every bit of energy that fuels this world. Let it go out for a few seconds. Let us sit in darkness for a few seconds and wonder what became of the world we knew only a moment ago. Then, perhaps, we can relate.