Lupus Alae

Spiritflights, fledgling and ancient


Promise of the Road to Nowhere

There is a place in the mountains of the Carolinas, off the beaten path a bit, where the federal government broke a promise many years ago. You can read about it here if you want to know the details, but the gist of it is that there was a partial road built into the woods, ending and abandoned at a big tunnel that trails off into darkness. (The road will never be finished now; about a year ago the county was paid a hefty settlement instead, in the interest of closing the matter.)

This road has become known as the Road to Nowhere, and the tunnel is so wide and deep that it is pitch black inside even at noon. Horse-drawn carts have been brought through's wide enough for about six adults to walk through holding hands. And trust me, at night especially, most people would want to! Otherwise you could wander in the darkness for quite a while, getting turned around repeatedly and never managing to make it to either end.

I have had the opportunity to travel to the end of the Road to Nowhere on a few separate occasions, and I have to say that I believe the moniker to be erroneous.

The first time I went through the tunnel with a group of people I was loosely connected to, I was unprepared for the magnitude of the experience. The clear, silent mountain night wrapped around us, and a few people tucked flashlights into their belts or pockets in case of emergency or panic. There's a certain reverence for the tunnel and the history surrounding it that begs for lights off and for quiet as travelers pass through the dark expanse. We did so in groups of three. I was placed between a man several years my senior and the girl who had invited me. Each of them took one of my hands, and one by one our little groups were swallowed by the blacker darkness of the tunnel.

I'm not sure what I expected, but never having been in such extensive nothing-blackness, I was startled by how thick it seemed to me. The very absence of light and anything recognizable (you could not see your hand touching your nose!) seemed to be its own presence, and I could feel adrenaline rising as a primal defensive mechanism kicked on with the removal of even the dim light of the night sky.

The girl on my left tightened her grip on my hand to the point of pain, and we could hear occasional screams and cries ahead of and behind us as people freaked out in the cloying darkness. The tunnel felt like it took forever to walk through. It was so dark you couldn't tell if you had turned sideways and were about to hit one of the walls or not, and if you spun yourself around, you might not ever figure out 'til you exited, which way you were going.

The man holding my right hand broke down at one point. Tears, outright sobbing. He wasn't the only one in our larger group by far. I heard some of the smaller groups coaxing various members to keep going, to just keep going and they'd get through it. We girls put the sobbing guy between us, and I have to admit, the brief moment when I put his hand in hers and let go to re-orient myself on his other side was unnerving.

Somewhere in there, it hit me. We only experience total darkness when we remove ourselves from every source of light. Even on a new-moon-dark night outside, you have starlight (and many instances of man-made light, in the city)...there are these beacons, natural guides. We're not left to founder, blind. If we ever find ourselves in real, total darkness, it is our own doing.

When we emerged from the tunnel of the Road to Nowhere, I saw with gratitude that "Nowhere" was a starlit forest stretching comfortably all around us, trees like so many jubilant friends, shaking their leaves in the breeze as if to say "Well, finally!"

Not nowhere at all. They got the spacing wrong. I was now here. Out of that smothering deep-dark patch of nothing, into everything free and natural and yes. I'm glad the rest of the road was never built, and the rest of the forest remains as it has for centuries, perhaps longer, in its beautiful now-hereness.
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