When was the last time you left the comforting lights of your home or campfire and stepped into the night darkness? Familiar places take on a new, mysterious look. Colors vanish, and the world closes in as your view becomes limited. You begin to depend more on your ears as your eyes fail to pick up needed input. It can be a little spooky and adventurous. Ever since that first campfire man has become a prisoner of light. We don’t feel comfortable outside of the illumination of electric lights, flashlights or fire. The darkness has become a foreign, forbidding place.
To many the night is cold and empty (the dead of night), but actually it is very much alive. It is estimated that 85 percent of the world’s mammals are night creatures, or become most active during the low-light periods of dawn and dusk. It is a time of hunters, for 60 percent of the carnivores hunt in the dark. Scents hang closer to the ground in the cool, damp night air. Only humans, apes, monkeys, some birds and a handful of other species inhabit the daytime.
Have you ever been startled by a pair of glowing eyes staring at you in the dark? Many mammals have a mirror like membrane in their eyes that bounce light to their retina twice, greatly increasing their night vision. It’s the glow of that mirror we see in the eyes of the raccoon, fox, deer, and opossum.
Many birds migrate at night, such as geese, wood warblers, vireos and wrens. They take full advantage of the daylight to feed, saving the darkness for traveling. For species that must worry about dehydration, like snakes and other reptiles, the lower temperatures and high humidity makes night life preferable.
For bug eaters the dark provides a buffet. Billions of them are in the night air, and they all hover around my windows and doors, waiting to get in. Some of them sing nice though. I like to sit on the patio and listen to the katydid and cricket chirping their love songs in an attempt to woo a female. The light show put on by fireflies is also worth sitting in the dark for. So the next time you feel the need for adventure, just slip into the darkness and enjoy the mystery.
Steve Roark is the Area Forester in Tazewell, Tenn. for the Tennessee Department of Agriculture, Forestry Division.