Teacher Avner told me I was a bright spark and taught me early on to read and write and think. Matter of fact, I first heard the words “not even light” when he and I were shooting the breeze after a numbers lesson. Of all the White Cedars olders, he was the only one who’d spend time talking about ideas with you–for example, what a poem might mean, or where a song came from, or whether we make numbers up or find them, or what lessons the past teaches us. He’d taught me more than the basics of reading and writing just because I’d kept pestering him about the library of old books he’d carted to White Cedars when he came to us from a brainery near Tronno. Sometimes he’d spot what he called a treasure among the goods a trading party might offer the farm, and he always had to argue with the council to add it to his library. Usually all he had to do was tell them a new book might be useful for farm management or production. He never told them that he also collected books of stories, poetry, pictures, and other impractical stuff–the kinds of books that I grew to especially love. I liked Teacher and his books so much that there was a time when I thought I might become a teacher myself and help keep old learning alive on farms and in settlements. But that notion wasn’t because of any natural calling, and my inclinations have taken me down altogether different paths as you’ll see.
So, why did I name this story Not Even Light? I once asked Teacher what the strangest thing he’d ever heard of might be. If it crossed your mind to ask anyone on the farm a question like that, it’d be Teacher who was curious himself and always willing to poke around inside an idea. He thought a frowny bit and then told me about a thing called a black hole that nothing escapes from, not even light. I thought maybe he’d meant something like getting caught by the Meeks or snatched by a forest boggart who’d drag you into his lair and disappear you but good. He laughed and said it wasn’t anything like that. It wasn’t a living creature at all, but a thing that no one had ever seen or could see, if you can imagine that. Of course, I asked where I might run across a weird thing like that, and he told me that as he understood it, black holes lay far out in the sky among the stars, so far away that no one could ever reach them. Not that you’d want to, he added, because if you got too close to one, it’d grab hold of you and suck your sorry ass in, chew you up, and not bother to spit your bones out. Sounded like a badass monster to me I said, and Teacher agreed.
How I struggled to get my head around the idea of a black hole! The words “not even light” played in my mind for many days and nights. They still do even now. Sometimes on night watch up top of Quaker Hill tower, I’d turn the idea of black holes and light over and over, trying to picture something powerful enough to catch a thing as nimble and everywhere as light and suck it down into the mystery of its darkness for keeps. It didn’t take much of a leap for me to see how life on White Cedars farm is a lot like a black hole, how its strangling everydayness snares the spirits of its dwellers and mashes their dreams into a gray, porridgy mush.
I kept fiddling with the words “not even light” and let the letters fall apart and come together again. I saw “let it go,” “enlighten,” and “enliven.” I saw “leg it.” I began to think that I’d have to leave the farm before my brain permanently turned numb and foggy. I imagined myself setting out into the Big Woods to find what there is to find, to discover things that might enlighten me and give me a feeling of being alive, not stunted and futureless like on the farm where your spirit bows to the community’s will and your value is measured by how useful and tame you are.
If there really are black holes way out among the stars, well, maybe it’s true that nothing can escape from their grasp kind of like you can’t break entirely free from the consequences of what you did in the past. But that doesn’t mean you have to surrender to them either…or become stuck in your present circumstances. I didn’t and I hope I never will. It’s been months since I passed through the east gate of White Cedars to foot it through the Big Woods and along the old roadways, and now that I’m well on the mend and have had time to rest and write, here’s my so-far tale. I wish I could see it in your hands. At least I’d know that it hasn’t been lost or used to start a fire or wipe an arse, and maybe we’d sit down and have a good talk. I wouldn’t mind at all answering all your questions, big and small, about what I’ve discovered out here far beyond the farm’s palisades. I don’t know that we’ll ever meet, but if you become a traveler yourself, keep an eye out for me. Who knows but luck may cause our paths to cross someday. If things have gone the way I’d choose, I’ll be roading with two others, and I’m easy to spot. I’ll be the one with flaming red hair and a sewed-up crease in the middle of his forehead.