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Get Outside: Adventures After Dark

A. Stinnissen Sunset

Throw your fear of the dark aside, and follow along with Julia Wolst, as she explains the benefits and fun that can be had at night. Some of my favourite memories are of times spent outdoors in the stillness of night. I remember laying in quiet company on a dock watching for shooting stars overhead, lulled by the lapping of waves below. I recall evenings spent around a campfire, listening to the pop and crackle of fresh firewood, with conversations maintained at a whisper level so as to not disturb the sanctity of night. In my experience, walking silently hand-in-hand with a parent, child or other companion has been made all that more intimate by the enveloping dark. Time together, outdoors, can be very special after dusk. Sharing the darkness can turn the ordinary into something extraordinary.

Yet many are intimidated by the dark outdoors beyond the sunset hour. Is the night something to fear? Or, is it something to be embraced? Perhaps we need to ask ourselves what it is about darkness that makes us uneasy. More likely than not, our answer is “the unknown.” As with most things, we are afraid of, and avoid, the unknown.

If we can set our fears aside, we may discover that there is unique magic to experience during the dusk to dawn hours. The first step in mitigating our fears is to reduce the unknown by finding security in the familiar. Begin by choosing a comfortable place outdoors – somewhere that you know and feel safe in during the daytime. This may be a local trail, a park, or as close as your own backyard. Exploring the familiar in an unfamiliar way changes our perceptions.

“Our eyes can play tricks on us

in the dark. It takes about 10-20

minutes for our eyes to begin to

adjust effectively for better

vision in low light levels.”

Our eyes can play tricks on us in the dark. It takes about 10-20 minutes for our eyes to begin to adjust effectively for better vision in low light levels. Our very best night vision develops only after several hours away from bright lights. Each exposure to light causes changes within the eye that affect how well we can see in reduced light conditions. This is why it is best to try to keep the use of artificial light sources, such as flashlights, to a minimum when exploring at night.

Like animals, with our sense of sight dulled, we must become more reliant on our other senses. Hearing and our sense of touch become heightened. We pay attention to, and make use of, our feet to find our way on the path. Our feet feel for bumps, treading more carefully or shuffling to check for roots or rocks that may trip us. We become more consciously aware of our surroundings in the dark.

There are many ways to get outside and enjoy the night as part of an impromptu adventure. Once you become comfortable after dark, you’ll find a whole new world to explore together.

Try laying on the grass at night and watch for bats swooping overhead. Although we often associate bats with Halloween, in Ontario, our bats are primarily active in the warmer summer months. By late October, most Ontario bat species have either gone into hibernation or migrated to warmer climates where they can find insects to feed upon. And, contrary to popular folklore, bats will not attack or swarm people to drink their blood. Sorry Dracula, in Ontario, our bat species feed on insects.

Sit in a quiet gathering and play “I see, I hear” whereby each person takes a turn describing something that they observe in the dark (wind rustling leaves, firefly, buzz of mosquito). Begin with some quiet time to allow your senses to adapt to conditions of the night.

Or, keep it super simple and find a favourite companion or two and walk hand in hand, silently, in the dark. If becoming lost or disoriented concerns you, pre-plan your route before dark and place activated glow sticks at strategic locations along your path as waypoint markers (just be sure to gather them again as you pass). This easy experience is often the most intimate and builds bonds of trust between parent and child or friend to friend.

On a recent camping adventure, my children and I sat quietly around our campfire, listening to the sounds of the night. Some snapping of twigs in the darkness behind the tent caught our attention. As we shone a flashlight into the shadowed woods, we laughed about what we would do if our light revealed something sinister staring back at us. Perhaps we’d read too many spooky stories. Whispered jokes about ninja-style Raccoons climbing trees to launch a surprise attack and steal all of our marshmallows ensued. It was simple, silly and created lasting memories. Yet, the same events, occurring in the daylight would have resulted in very different recollections – if they were remembered at all. Enveloped by the darkness, we were together, cocooned in our own special little world.

Go on, get out there. I dare you to delve into the darkness and create your own nighttime memories.

Julia Wolst is a volunteer with The Couchiching Conservancy.

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