I would probably spend all my waking hours outside meandering through the forests, meadows, wetlands, and streams daily if I could, but this summer’s heat has impeded my wanderings. This gave rise to one of my pet activities, nighttime discovery. Though the human eye is not intended for darkness, what lurks in the “wild” in the evenings is a genuine treasure oft neglected because of our fear of the dark. Yet, taking the risk of a stroll at dusk can be rewarding and even “eye opening.” Our other senses come alive at night.
Recently, the waning full moon did not shed any luminosity until after midnight so I had to rely on adjusted sight and sound and smell. As I stumbled toward the brook, immediately the trickling water drew me in the right direction. The roots, so visible during the day, seemed to reach up endeavoring to grab my feet as I shuffled along the path. Ferns brushing my calves initially startled me until I settled into this new environment. The theft of sight creates a need to slow down, which really isn’t such a negative concept. It allowed me to be aware of so much that surrounded me in this one little space, not having progressed very far. I pressed onward.
Now that my eyes were adjusting and I recognized outlines of trees and bushes instead of lions, and tigers, and bears, “Oh, my!”, I could relax and simply experience. Rustling to the right was probably a mouse or flying squirrel, whooshing overhead an owl chasing dinner. Leaves fluttered gently in the nighttime breeze. The acerbic scent of the marsh wafted into my nose, a recognizable aroma often mildly repulsive during the day, now an ally of familiarity.
I traipsed along the path, crossing the bridge by feel, stepping cautiously back on to the trail. Continuing on my journey I recognized the papery texture of a birch as I aided my progress with my fingers and hands. Then I was startled by a sudden “ribbit, ribbit” of a small frog near the brook. The ensuing splash let me know my foot placement must have been close to his resting spot. Katydids and crickets sang profusely in the humid air.
Suddenly, all sound ceased. This sent my thoughts into a whirlwind of possibilities. Usually an abrupt halt like this signals danger to the little creatures who had so joyously been serenading each other. What could possibly be skulking through their world at this hour? A skunk? Or raccoon? Guess who, Mr. Man, me. Though I had been attempting to walk as quietly and stealthily as I could, my intermittent crunches had brought this silence on. Once I stood still for a moment the chorus continued.
By now the moon was beginning to ascend above the trees, its light coalescing through the branches and leaves. Shadows became more distinct and shapes more recognizable. In one way this illumination brought comfort because I was back in my world of sight. This, however, removed me from the magical setting to which I had slowly adjusted. The subtle sounds and smells of the night were muffled by the moon’s glow. Yet this soft light offered up scenery that was still mysterious and enchanting.
I would recommend that you not wait for an excuse, heat or otherwise, to venture out into the woods once the sun has set. Such a leisurely walk will provide you with an experience that is fresh, delightful, and full of surprises. You will realize the many “talents” of our lesser senses and perhaps use these other senses more during the day as well, bringing a novel awareness of our breathtaking natural world.