The Beauty of Darkness


A story investigating the beauty to be found within isolation, where the insignificance of man is overshadowed by the landscapes surrounding us.

The air froze our windpipes and stabbed our lungs with every breath. We had arrived in Calgary, Alberta at midnight and I think it was below twenty that evening as we headed towards Banff and Lake Louise. A dark curtain of night concealed the mountains, but this did not restrain us from trying to catch a preview of the Rockies, with nothing but moonlight to provide a sneak peek of what lay ahead. I have always used music to create the mood - to accompany a moment or simply as a distraction - but in a setting such as The Rockies, the mountains have a soundtrack all of their own. The harsh peaks soar above you, like tired, worn out faces gazing down. Glaciers pass through the region, decimating the landscape as they move slowly, grinding the rock into what we see today. The gentle river has eroded the valleys over millennia, creating meandering paths for the water to pass. It all leaves us feeling rather small, reminding us of our fragile bodies. Such an area demands respect. 

The second day provided a hike into the wilderness. With the previous days exploration under our belt, we armed ourselves with a soundtrack bequeathed to us by the mountains. We headed out, down snow-laden tracks, the faces of peaks all around us checking on us as we moved. The crisp air suffocated us, setting the pace, slowing us down. The daunting atmosphere and the brutal rocky peaks managed to make me feel completely insignificant, whilst the mist and fog held captive by the peaks enticed us even more. The desolate and intimidating empty spaces had a sombre palette, enhancing the melancholy mood, but I did not find this overpowering. The base of the mountains were shrouded in a protective wrapping of forest and undergrowth, showing evidence of life and beauty in such a harsh environment. 

It was a trip further north to our next destination: Whitehorse in The Yukon Territory. It was a great deal colder here. I remember the temperature being as low as -30 degrees as we drove  down The Alaska Highway, travelling over a pillowcase of snow. The snow was everywhere, as inviting as a hotel duvet, until you stepped out of the car, into the piercing ice-cold atmosphere. Basic human existence is a challenge here, and remoteness is part of the package. We turned off the highway and continued down a tree-lined track, carpeted with our old friend, snow.  If remoteness is the package, we dove straight in, a cabin on a mound overlooking a frozen lake, with Alaska in the distance and nothing and no one in between.  A few scouting trips later we found our next hike. Up at first light, here at this latitude, light is life. Snowshoes on, down the steep hill, and on to the frozen lake. Being exposed in this environment makes you cling to safety; we hugged the trees as we edged down the lake, using their shelter to protect us from the winds. Using peaks to navigate, we found our predecessor's footprints on the landscape; an old railway track used during the Klondike Gold Rush, a dystopian relic of man's greed. We hiked back home to the cabin and made our fire in silence, contemplating man's role in this world, and his relationship with nature. I have always been drawn towards the poetic side of darkness, not through sadness, but introspection and melancholy. However, there is no poetry in man using nature for his own exploits. 

Photography: Azzymah Zain 
Words: John Henry Mayor

StoryRucksack Magazine