Monday, May 17, 2010

The Light Within

By Ira Smith

I had just made camp for the night in an old lean-to on a heavily wooded summit of the remote pass between Giant and Green Mountains in the New York State Adirondacks. Pitch-black darkness had descended early and the wind gusted through the trees. It was late August 1986. The summer had been damp and cold and another rainstorm was on its way after a one-day respite of bright sun, clear blue sky and comfortable temperature.

The yellow flame of a four-inch candle, which I stuck upright on the wooden floor in melted wax, burned vigorously, fanned by the wind entering the open side of the lean-to. The log walls of barkless hemlock radiated a golden glow. In the crude fireplace outside, the red coals of the dying fire sputtered and snapped with each gust of wind. I felt captured in an old timer’s early 1900s photograph.

I lay on my stomach in the sleeping bag, recording my reflections on a marvel-filled day. Good feelings flooded me though miles of hiking with a full pack spent my energy. During the unhurried climb into the pass, my mind was devoted to the present and the presence of the Lord. I relished a continual state of praise and thankfulness. I took a lenient, meandering course by taking mini-excursions off the beaten trail as nonchalant as an autumn leaf floating down a brook being blown this way and that. I concentrated on what was underfoot, being childlike in my examination of all things - sniffing, harking, touching and nudging, peering and tasting. The earthy signals, which impinged my sensors, belonged to me; and God granted me awareness, cognizance, consciousness, and the sensibility to integrate them into my inner self.

While propped on my elbows, pen in right hand, pencil flashlight in left, writing in my journal, occasionally taking a sip of Black Velvet whiskey from my coffee mug and munching on mouthfuls of Spanish peanuts, the achiness and stiffness from the day’s exertion ebbed from my body and was replaced by an inflowing of indescribable inner peace.

Suddenly, a moth fluttered by my face attracted by the candle flame a forearm’s length away. As this nocturnal insect swooped by the flickering flame, its feathery antennae and fluttering wings cast a moody silhouette along the log wall and across the beamed ceiling. When it circled to make a closer pass, its shadow grew to vampire proportions. With each successive pass, it went closer, and closer, unable to resist the attraction of the mysterious light.

At last the moth intercepted the flame with a resounding zap. Not disheartened, its actions increased in frenzy with each successive intercept until finally, its flame seared body crashed to the floor at the foot of the candle, writhing and twisting and high pitched buzzing. I wanted to mercifully squash it into oblivion with my thumb, but chose to let the drama continue. Abruptly, the moth stilled, stretched out its stout body and, with its underside glued to the floor, spread out its delicate fire-singed wings and then slowly raised them in unison until the tips touched at the zenith, casting a distinct sail boat shadow on the floor. The violent drama had ended peacefully.

I rolled onto my back and lay still for a while. As I gazed thoughtfully at the dimly lit ceiling, I was momentarily distracted by the carved and charcoaled names of previous tenants whose dates of occupancy had spanned four decades. I then rolled back on my stomach and recorded the ritual of the moth. Unable to describe its meaning, I gave up for the night and closed out with this thought:
No tent flap to secure,
no cabin door to bolt;
yet I feel no sense of fear
in this wilderness remote.

For days afterward, I slowly constructed an interpretation of the “dream” I had that evening.

My encounter with the moth was immersed in an atmosphere of tranquility; the flame of my candle signified the light, which lies deep within my soul, as deep as that single candlelight centered in the wilderness sanctuary. Unlike the lighted candle, which is vulnerable to the adversarial wind, the light within never fades, patiently waiting to be discovered. The moth was searching! Although the candle flame was the only outdoor light within thousands of acres of dense forest that stormy night, that moth found it!

In spite of seemingly insurmountable odds, I too can find the light within and once truly discovered, I am drawn to it. Like the moth, I cannot resist its powerful attraction.

Ira Smith ©2010


  1. Wonderful details create the scene for the reader. Loved these lines:

    "...pen in right hand, pencil flashlight in left, writing in my journal, occasionally taking a sip of Black Velvet whiskey from my coffee mug and munching on mouthfuls of Spanish peanuts,"

    An evocative piece.

  2. Ira, this is a simply beautiful description of a pivotal moment in your life. The details are exquisite, and make the piece, along with the "mood" you set - the way it flows gently here and there, I could see it all. It reminds me of something I read by Ted Koozer today: "It is enough for me as a reader that a poem take from life a single moment and hold it up for me to look at. There need not be anything sensational or unusual or peculiar about that moment, but somehow, by directing my attention to it, our attention to it, the poet bathes it in the light of the remarkable." I feel refreshed and renewed having read it. Thank you for sharing.

  3. Really enjoyed your piece. Great sense of intimacy. I was there—a moth on the wall (so to speak).

  4. "I felt captured in an old timer's early 1900s photograph" - I've had that feeling but not some of the others you so eloquently wrote about. I enjoyed your piece. Thanks for sharing.

  5. Many times on many trails I have felt that night is a friend. This reminds me of some of those nights. I've never carried a flashlight at night, perhaps my trails were lit by another light. You've written a beautiful piece, Ira, and it brought with it some wonderful memories.

  6. What lovely writing, I was there with you. Yes, we are sometimes drawn to something that will change us forever, would the moth (and we) be better if we always choose safety? I think we are on our way somewhere, unknown to us now but an incredible wonder yet to be. Thanks for this closer look.. Sharon