A car shushes down the lane and breaks the short-lived romance of silence. As I glance out of the bedroom window at the disappearing evening, the sky has suddenly switched from a mellow dusk into instant night – it is that time of year, I suppose. The evening no longer stretches out in the leisurely disposal of Summer, but simply ends. It is September. It is unequivocally Autumn. Soon, on the 21st it will be the Autumn equinox, when day and night are of equal lengths. But the weight of the charcoal cloud pressing down upon the lingering red traces of sunset suggests an imposed quietness which is pleasing. No birdsong, not even the robin’s newly melancholy notes. The sky, at least, is soundless.
Now there is plush dark. All traces of the day erased. A plane light blinks out its trail in red across the sky. In the near distance there is the Beckley transmitter, a telecommunications and broadcasting mast to the north east of Oxford, a tower of lights like a pin of red diamante against a background of deep velvet. I only ever notice the mast in the later part of the year. Because then I notice the dark, too.
I think of the mast like a sort of inland lighthouse, guiding me ‘home’ in the months of the year when the darkness can feel overwhelming. I look out of this window or the kitchen window on the shortest of afternoons and instantly I am enlivened by a mere glimpse of its glimmering structure. I feel like a ship pulled towards port.
I read about the mast, courtesy of Wikipaedia. Its history is judiciously detailed and only adds to the peculiar sense of tenderness I experience when I witness it in its nocturnal radiance. It stands on a hill just a few miles from the city in a rural district dominated by farmland and woodland and the large wetland reserve of Otmoor, which lays around 400 feet below the base of the mast which itself rises over 500 feet into the night sky. I have never noticed it in daylight, though I do not look for it then.
The mast has stood on that hill since 1962, and has been transmitting radio and television programming in various and complex-seeming modes of advancing technology ever since. Into my home the mast brings the World, various, colourful, an ineluctable part of my modern life. Without those voices and pictures – and wifi and mobile services more recently – what would my Winter be, what would my existence be? Quieter, yet graver too. This knowledge, these things, lift me.
It has been another hot, bright day. But now an owl calls through the dark – a tawny – just once and faintly, but unmistakeably. The owl calls it’s soft, cool, hooting woodwind.
It is raining now, in moments, but the mast never stops glowing. The mast may be the antithesis of nature, and nature is as much a part of me as I am it, yet I understand that the culture that the mast brings me is ineffably ‘me’ too.
I listen to the rain beginning and ending and beginning again and I stare at the mast, and I thank it. Then I close the curtains on the night and go downstairs to see my husband, my daughter, and a screen filled with the coloured-in time of television. The mast is more than just the sum of its parts. The mast brings me the World, and the mast brings me home, too.