We walk into the sheltering dark nearly every night coming home to our little cabin, far from the lights of town. Our path connects to the narrow dirt road where we park our car and meanders several hundred feet into the woods before reaching the front steps.
We used to clutch flashlights back in the early days when every rustle made our hearts pound. The flashlights got lost or broken. The batteries ran down. It was simpler to walk in the dark.
And so we do. My tall teen rushes into the dark without a moment's hesitation; he has known all the turns of the long path from babyhood. My little girl confidently takes her papa's hand. I carry our youngest, his sleepy head resting against my shoulder, his arms tight around me.
Walking into the dark, I learn how many ways there are to find my way. On the darkest nights, I stop at the path's first turn to orient myself. Crisp, fragrant leaves touch my left hand as I reach out -- the little California bay tree beside the path. The soft, whiskery touch on my right cheek, brushing across my little son's face as well so that he giggles, is a low branch of the big fir tree.
Beneath my feet the path is smooth and hard; should I find myself on thick soft ground, I have strayed too far into the deep forest mulch. A step back and I am on firm ground again.
What most startles me on these nighttime walks is not the darkness, cool and enclosing, but how much brightness glows unexpectedly even in the blackest night.
In spring the path takes us beneath the plum trees whose blossoms shimmer in the starlight; on warm summer nights the white roses that wind through the brambles at the edge of the garden shine gently with reflected moonlight.
In early autumn there are huge white lilies and clusters of daisies acting as soft floral lanterns as we make yet another turn and see the cabin windows warm with light as my teen, there ahead of us, lights the first candles.
The dark of winter and early spring has a special magic. Orion shines through the old fir trees, surrounded by uncountable stars, and here, on the forest pat -- what can they be?
''Look!'' calls out my daughter. ''The stars have fallen to show us the way home!'' The glowworms are out -- a dozen or more coolly brilliant lights gemming our way.
The way home in the dark is full of shining wonders.