Because my play practices (see “The Play’s the Thing”) start around 6:00 or 6:30 p.m. and run till about 8:30 or so, I’m walking the trail home in the dusk far more often than I’m used to. Our daylight extends about 5 minutes each day, so that most practice evenings, I can usually make it all the way home without my headlamp. It’s that word “usually” that sometimes becomes problematic.
Our forest trail home offers a beautiful 20 minutes to half hour or so of woodland wonder, whether one walks in full daylight or full darkness. At dusk, our woods are, in Robert Frost’s words, “lovely, dark and deep.” Accustomed as we are to living in low light conditions, and with more than 10 years of experience hiking the trail, we can often navigate well through the crepuscular gloom without resorting to artificial light.
However, humans are not nocturnal creatures. Our eyes have evolved to discern, and rely upon color, shape, and, perhaps most critically, contrast. In the dusk, the terrain loses contrast, hiding from human sight the rugged terrain. Even on my best nights, I prudently pull out my headlamp and use it, at least for the treacherous final descent to the cabin, where gravity, tired inattention, and tree roots collude to trap the weary traveler (see Headlamps: Don’t Leave Home Without Them!).
My worst night so far came last week, when I hauled home a propane tank.
I carry my script, planner, pens, and a few props in a daypack on nights when I don’t need a bigger pack for other hauling. When I use the backboard for the propane tank, I attach my daypack to the upper frame, so my hands remain free. Unfortunately, that night I left my headlamp in a pocket of the daypack. As I began to need it, I weighed the need against the inconvenience of taking off the heavy pack to retrieve my light. I decided against it.
I didn’t fall; I didn’t injure myself; but, I came near to both as I stumbled home. I arrived at the cabin with even more relief than usual that night!
Ironically, I’d carried out a walking stick to help me on the way home, but passed where it leaned against a tree in the growing dark, and went home without it. Arriving at almost exactly the same time the next night, I used it to navigate in the dusk.
These evening walks put me in the forest at a time when more animals become active. One evening, as I closed up the car and shouldered my pack at the roadside, I glanced back toward town to look for traffic before crossing the road. There, about 5 yards away, stood a huge cow moose and her nearly-as-massive yearling calf, staring at me. I raised my arms and “woofed” at them, and they shied down to the beach. We paralleled each other crossing the bay. On another night I saw a moose on the road closer to town. Parts of its fur were so pale, it looked as if it had been beaten with sacks of flour.
One evening, I followed a porcupine down the trail through the Blow Down (see Exploring the Blow Down). Luckily, it veered off the trail rather than fleeing before me closer to the homestead. With our new plants coming up in the garden, that would be a problem. I’m a little too busy with the play to butcher and cook a porcupine right now.
By our last performance in mid-May, I imagine even the latest trips home will come in full daylight. Summer’s advancing quickly, and we’ll soon have more daylight than we can properly use. I need to enjoy this brief period when our forest is lovely, dark and deep while it lasts.