Saturday, November 05, 2005

Night adventure

When the sun sets and the
moon rises, most people head
for the warmth and safety
they find indoors. Author
Vinson Brown, however, says
walking abroad in the wilds
beneath the light of the moon
may result in interesting and
wonderful experiences.
Brown's book is titled, Read
ing the Outdoors at Night.

Fumble along and... Read
the Darkness for `interest and
wonder' Whoo-oo-oo-oo?
Who? What do you mean,
who? Shucks, your feet don't
fit on a limb.
Or, possibly: Who? Shucks,
you've been out of the woods
long enough to know who?
Sure, I could've said those
things. But the critter hooting
Who? Who? actually did have
feet that fit a limb. And, it had
probably never really been
out of the woods.
And, truth be known, it had
a very legitimate right to be
asking Who? Who? I was,
after all, the interloper.
And in the dark.
And all because of an inno
cent enough book, titled
``Reading the Outdoors at
``Many people find them
selves in the dark,'' it begins.
And I knew the author,
Vinson Brown, understood
my plight.
The darkness was my old
friend, sometimes at mid-day.
Oh, Brown goes on to say,
``Some have gone for a walk
and found the dark coming
quicker than they imagined.
Others may have a car break
down and so may be on a
dark road for awhile. Some,
such as woodsmen and mess
engers, have to go through
dark areas as part of their
work. Others may be camping
out, and of course, be sur
rounded by darkness beyond
their fire and lamplight. Still
others may be vacationing in
a cabin on the edge of the
woods, lake, desert or some
other wild area. Their cabin
or tent may even be in the
midst of such a wilderness.
Some people go on hikes or
walks and get lost in the dark;
they usually become
thoroughly frightened.''
Yep, Brown seemed to
know me personally. I'd ex
perienced each of those
things, especially the one
about being a messenger who
had to go through dark areas
as part of his work.
``Yet,'' Brown continued,
``how few of these people
realize what a grand and still
safe adventure the dark can
be, and how filled with
interest and wonder!''
That's the line that put me
off my pumpkin.
On a hiking trip along the
Imnaha River, up from Indian
Crossing, in the Eagle Cap
Wilderness, I got to thinking
about how ``interest and won
der'' filled the darkness. And
this light bulb lit up in my
When it got real dark, so
the interest and wonder
would be moving around
good, I'd take a walk. I'd ex
plore the darkness first hand.
On the second night out,
squatting before the tent and
watching the sun drop behind
the ridge to the northwest, I
didn't feel like crawling into
the tent.
Sure, the temperature
dropped 30 degrees, to about
35, when the sun set. And my
cold feet and aching back
said, ``Bed time!''
But my dumb curiosity said,
``C'mon, let's take a stroll.
Remember, the darkness is
filled with interest and won
der.'' And 1,000 eyes.
So, amid some pretty
severe grousing from feet and
back, I re-tied my boots,
pulled the stocking cap down
over my ears, slipped chilled
fingers into wool gloves and
set out across the meadow.
Halfway to the tree line, I
decided I couldn't see diddly-
squat and hurried back to the
tent for a flashlight.
Of course, Brown suggests
covering a light with red
cellophane, which many ani
mals can't detect, and fixing it
to your head to leave your
hands free.
But you gotta go with what
you got, I said, amazed at the
philosophical insight dark
ness stimulated. I checked the
light for fresh batteries the
way all outdoorsmen do. I
shined it into my eyes.
Squinting as I strolled, I
called up from my computer-
like brain the file I'd stored on
Brown's book: Sharpening
the senses. How to increase
vision at night. Being in the
right place at the right time.
Droppings and tracks: clues
to animal whereabouts.
Recognizing birds of the
night in action. Probing the
Nighttime World of Reptiles
and Amphibians (Here, I
quickly shined the light all
around). Meeting Insects and
their relatives at night. Listen
ing to nature's nighttime
I stopped, turned off the
light and listened.
``The adventurer in the
world of nature after dark,''
Brown said on page 123,
``must first of all be at home
in the dark and unhampered
by unreasonable fear.''
I cast aside my unreason
able fears and stood there
shaking like an aspen leaf
with the reasonable one
screaming: ``Watch out! You
can't see diddly-squat?''
I snapped the light on
again. Just to check the foot
ing, of course.
Then, I shook myself. I was
missing the whole point of
Brown's book, I snapped off
the light walked slow.
Eventually, I put a foot
down and heard a squisssssh.
A cold, wet sensation seeped
down my ankle, under the
sole of my foot and between
my toes.
I'd walked into a swamp.
``Quicksand! Run!'' my
reasonable fear shouted.
Succkkkkk. That's the
sound the muck made when I
pulled my leg. Sloooop. That's
the sound my foot made when
it slipped out of the boot.
Ah, nature's nighttime
sounds. Holding the light in
my teeth, I leaned onto hands
and knees and dug the boot
from the mud.
To avoid the swamp, I clam
bered half a mile up the
Eventually I had to tip-toe
across a boulder slide. At the
edge of it, near a gnarled pine, several
angry nose-clearing snorts
shattered the night.
Demonstrating a rare
46-inch vertical jump and
hanging above the rocks with
the hair standing at attention
on my face, arms and legs, I
swept the area with the light.
The Brown file whipped
onto my mental screen, page
20-21, Identification Key to
Eyes at Night: Closely set,
large, bright orange eyes:
Bear; Bright yellow eyes, Rac
coon; Yellowish white eyes,
Bobcat or Canadian lynx;
Fiery white eyes, Coyotes,
dogs, wolves; Opalescent
green eyes, Bullfrog. ...
The light swept across dark
brown fur, about five feet tall,
clattering from the clearing
and crashing into the trees.
Ah, elk. My feet settled onto
the ground and the hair on
my face and limbs relaxed to
parade rest.
Eventually, I rounded the
head of the swamp high on
the mountianside, and a wax
ing four-fifths moon cleared
the ridges to the east. Sud
denly, I cast a shadow. Turn
ing off the flashlight I decided
this walking at night in the
wilderness could be fun.
To cool down after so much
exertion and fear, I sat on a log to rest, look and
listen. Soaking up the interest
and wonder I realized that
Brown had a great idea.
Who-oo-oo-oo? Who-oo-oo-
Who? Who do you think?
Vinson Brown. He wrote
``Reading the Outdoors at
Night,'' published by Stockpole
Books, Cameron and Kelker
Streets, Harrisburg, Penn.,
17105 ($9.95, paperback).
Say, you could even talk to
the animals in the dark.
Who'd know?

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