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Take a Walk on the Dark Side!

Henry David Thoreau once resolved to go on night walks to “make acquaintance with another side of nature.”

Darkness naturally nudges us towards our electric light world, however, walking at night can be very rejuvenating, granting us a fresh perspective to familiar places.

When we enter a dark place, our pupil opens to allow as much light in as possible. It takes less than a minute for the pupil to fully dilate; however, the rod-shaped and cone-shaped photoreceptors in our eyes need more time to adjust. Cones are responsible for fine detail and colour and the rods are responsible for dark and light.

Rods, the heavy hitters in low light situations, incrementally adjust to darkness over several hours. Contact with artificial light, even a short blast of light from a vehicle or a flashlight, will impact your night vision, setting back your darkness adjustment.

All animals have rod and cone photosensors, however, the quantity of each sensor cells varies between species. For example, with a scarcity of rods, chickens can’t see at night and must roost before dark. In comparison, owls can fly and hunt in almost complete darkness due to an abundance of rod sensors.

Many nocturnal animals have a reflective membrane at the back of their eyes, called the tapetum lucidum. It acts like a mirror reflecting light back to the retina, helping with night vision.  When driving at night, if you see the glare of a roadside animal’s ‘eye shine’, this is your headlights bouncing off the tapetum membrane. Without a reflective membrane, our human nighttime surroundings appear softer with less definition; familiar landscapes lose their crisp detail and are transformed into more subtle shapes and shades. 

Like an injury to the team’s star player, other senses rise to the occasion when our sight is diminished. Walking feels more tactile, smells seem more intense and sounds are amplified. Your imagination can blossom- a small critter scampering can mutate into something much bigger. Ultimately, you become more attuned to your surroundings.

Most people feel uncomfortable walking after dark – when our vision is restricted, we can feel anxious or unsettled. Furthermore, darkness has become a metaphor for evil and depression, partially fueled by societal messages fertilizing this fear through books, movies and other media.

If just starting out with night walking adventures, consider the following suggestions:

• Know your route. Walking on a known trail or track will feel
more familiar.

• Try to avoid light. Plan your route around areas without
artificial light.

• Take someone with you. 

• Take it slow. Give your eyes time to adjust.

• Bring a headlamp or flashlight. But try not to use it.

• Pick a good time to walk.

-Watching the sunset before starting your walk is a gradual approach to darkness.

-Later evening hikes, without a moon or clouds, will allow the majesty of the stars to shine.

-Full moon walks, especially in the winter, are magical opportunities.  Bathed in moonlight, snow crystals can
look like diamond dusted soft ice cream.

When the afterglow of twilight has receded, there is no curfew keeping you inside. The setting of the sun is an open invitation to get outside and experience something new and exhilarating. Try it… you might just see the light of walking in the dark!

Submitted By: Rick Whitteker   

Photo Credits: Carol Moffatt