I’ve had a forced hiatus this week. I had one night out in a tent (number 5 this year), a rainy, thunderstorm-filled night where the sound of rain on the tent fly created a strangely comforting feeling. Not unlike a tin-roofed cabin. Then, the school Robotics team I’ve previously mentioned got invited, so we went, to the World Championship! Great time, the team had fun, and learned a lot!
Now that I’m back, I notice a lot of changes in just a week. We saw the redbud blooms fade, to be replaced by dogwoods, and where a week ago we saw huge vines of purple wisteria flowers, those are now gone and instead all the locust trees are blooming their chandeliers of white flowers. (You can eat both locust and wisteria flowers, by the way – they’re good battered and fried, fritter style).
One of the more significant changes, though, is the chorus of the night.
Let’s face it, humans aren’t good at the dark. We rely so much on vision that we’re extremely uncomfortable, vulnerable, and often frightened by the darkness. Most prey animals feel the same way (and for millions of years, we were prey animals), for though darkness conceals us, it also conceals hidden dangers, with claws and teeth. So it is that you can easily tell human habitation in most of the world, simply by looking for the lights. We used to use fire to comfort ourselves (and it still has that appeal), but now mercury-vapor lamps produce islands of light for a mobile world that never sleeps.
Despite this, I invite you to embrace the darkness. As uncomfortable as it makes us, hitting a deep well of concern in our subconscious, MANY animals rely on the night for stealth, and thrive after the sun goes down. Deprived of sight, our other senses – particularly hearing – are heightened. The sensation CAN be the spooky creaking of trees in the wind, fluttering of bats and insects, the hooting of an owl, the crack of a twig under the feet of a stalking wolf – you know, all that typical Halloween stuff where we’ve culturally equated darkness, the night, and all its denizens with evil and death.
On the other hand, you can experience it the way I have this week. Twilight brings out the spring peepers, calling across ponds to potential mates. As darkness falls, the bats come out – but they’re hunting mosquitoes, not sucking blood. The tree frogs start to trill among the high limbs. Crickets chirp. It’s too early (yet), for katydids and lightning bugs (fireflies), but they’ll be out soon too. The whippoorwills cry in the early night, to be replaced (where I live), by chuck-wills-widows early in the pre-dawn. If you’re still, you might also hear the nocturnal mammals. Rabbits and deer wander the fringes of the yard. Skunks, possums, and raccoons also start to forage and hunt.
On a clear night, the stars give enough light to calm your natural fears, giving you something to focus on. A moon is even better, though it attacks the secrecy of the dark. It makes US feel better though, and the reflection of moonlight on the water is especially soothing, coupled with the regular sounds of waves lapping the shore.
In short, night in the outdoors is a world we actively avoid, but it’s a world of mystery and intrigue. The same small sounds that haunt first-time campers are those that make the night come alive for those who are open to listening, and absorbing it. Grab a headlamp, but keep it turned off. Grab a friend, if it helps you feel safer. Let your eyes – feeble as they are – adapt, and walk into the forest. Find a spot to sit, and let the music of the night paint a picture of the dynamic natural world that comes to life when we normally go to sleep.
Get Out There