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Monday, October 12, 2015

Embrace the Darkness

When I was a little boy my dad and I used to play a lot of games. One of my favorites was to turn all the lights off in the house and we'd try to sneak up on each other. Dad taught me to not fear the dark. It was a great lesson.

Most people don't realize how good their night vision really is. Take a full 15 or 20 minutes to adapt to the dark and you discover it's not quite as dark as you thought. Outside it's a rare night that's totally black, even out beyond the reach of urban light pollution. Moonless rainy nights come pretty close though.

Tree cover can really darken your path. I've night hiked on trails by paying attention the gravel under my feet. Once my feet encountered vegetation, I knew I was off the beaten trail. Another time I followed an overgrown logging road out of the woods. Trees had grown in the old road so I could not see the road in the dark. However, the new trees were shorter than the old growth. By looking up at the night sky I could just make out the taller trees. By staying between the tall trees I followed the remains of the road until it connected to a better one.

My friends and I used to do a lot of night hiking. We'd hit the trail after we got out of our day jobs and hike until 3 or 4 in the morning. Mountain climbing during clear moonless nights were magical and happy times.

Didn't we have lights? Usually, but we kept their use to a bare minimum as to preserve our night sight. Some nights we never turned a light on. The more you practice moving the dark the better you get at it.

One of the things I've noticed about people who move to the country: they love to keep their big flood lights on. Are they afraid of the dark? One good thing I can say about my new neighbor is that they don't do that. The previous person paid to keep a big pole light on all night. It was a fair distance away from my house, but it still was bright enough to annoy me. It's nice to have my night sky back.

There's an argument that having lots of lights around one's property is a good security measure. Maybe it is in the city. Out in the country people walking around a dark house with flashlights is suspicious. Sneaking around my property without lights is a sure way to raise a racket stumbling over my junk.

What I do keep handy is a powerful hand held spotlight. They are great for blinding someone in the dark. Of course, I've only caught black bears snooping around. They don't like being blinded either.

Night vision goggles are tempting, but their price tag has always been a bit too rich for my blood. They have their place, but I wouldn't want to become too dependent on them. Night vision makes things a lot clearer, but it comes at a cost. Your peripheral vision is gone and the tendency is to pay less attention to your other senses. Like any other tool, know when to use it and know when not to.

As people age their night vision weakens. Of course, so does your day vision. However, there are medical conditions that make it worse. Diabetes is one. In its early stages, cataract formation is often first noticed as a loss of night vision. Exposure to bright light during the day can temporarily worsen night vision for up to two days. Wear those dark sunglasses when going to the beach.

We aren't little children anymore. There's no need to fear the dark.


  1. Really dark up here at night - I like it! Improves your hearing, too!

    1. It's great to just sit outside and see how far you can expand your senses.

  2. I always liked the woods at night. When I was boy, a couple of bullies were after me and I ran into the safety of the dark forest. They were afraid to follow. Also, hiking home from hunting till sundown gave me lots of walks in the dark.

    1. For you and I, the woods are our safe place and the dark provides refuge.

      It's big city lights that scare me.