Perceptions

All right, it took me a couple of nights to get the image that I wanted, mentioned in the last post, but one of those nights was spent over at The Girlfriend’s place, so it doesn’t count ;-)

As you might have determined from previous posts (of course you’ve read them all,) I do a fair amount of poking around at night. I’ve been doing this for a long time now. It’s quieter, cooler, with no traffic, and the sky can get much more interesting. Social people might not identify with it so much, but for a hermit like me it’s a great time to be out. I’ve gotten reactions from people when I tell them I often hike down the roads at night, along the lines of, “Is that safe?” Night, to many, represents the time when things are dangerous, when villains are out and no one is around to help you. Alternately, others will say that there’s nothing in the dark that isn’t there in the light.

Both are wrong. I’ve never been the least harassed, or even felt on-edge, by anyone I’ve met on the roads at night – I usually don’t encounter anyone. Muggers have better places to lie in wait for people, of course. But nighttime definitely shows a distinct difference from daytime. You might be amazed at how much you hear moving around, and on occasion see, if you’re paying attention. I tend to carry a flashlight, not to see my way (my night vision is usually sufficient,) but to get a better idea of what I hear moving in the woods and underbrush. And fairly often, what I’m greeted with while I shine the light about is exactly what you see in the photo up there.

The first time this happened, it was even more dramatic looking than that. I was on a lonely, deeply wooded stretch of road close to a kilometer from the nearest house, and the flashlight only went so far into the woods. The trees got fainter and fainter with the distance, and at the limits of its range, deep in the darkness, shone two eyes, right at my own eye level.

I’m not superstitious, and I’m well aware of the critters in the areas I’ve lived, but I still couldn’t get past how creepy this was, a very powerful feeling. The rational part of my mind could not completely overrule the reactive part, which I find interesting. What I also find interesting is the fact that eyes reflecting at my own eye level are far more chill-inducing than eyes at lower levels. You could argue that eyes down low mean things like raccoons and opossums, which aren’t threatening, but that fails the rational test – eyes at eye level are invariably deer, and the most threatening animals around here, wolves and coyotes, are lower too.

That’s not to say that wolves and coyotes are threatening – they’re not, and while the media makes big deals out of any dangerous encounters, they’re few and far between. I’ve heard a pack of coyotes calling at night too, once again on a lonely road and only a few hundred meters away. I can only describe it as a delightfully spooky sound, just like the movies but awesome to hear nearby. Less than a week ago, as a jet passed overhead and produced a distant howl of changing pitch, a coyote answered it, confirming to me that I have some not too far away, so maybe some photos will be forthcoming soon.

The scariest encounter I’ve ever had at night, believe it or not, was hearing a fox calling. Go to this link, click on “call.wav” and tell me that doesn’t sound like a woman being beaten. Which is a really bad thing to hear a few hundred meters away in dense woods. Two close encounters with skunks and nearly being run down by a deer don’t compare at all.

The big point is, there’s a lot going on at night, and encounters to be had that you’re not likely to have during the day. The quiet and darkness only add to the effect. There is a whole other world of activity, and if you have any interest in nature, you need to be wandering in the dark. It doesn’t make photography any easier, true enough, but there are still opportunities. In the past week, I’ve had encounters with umpteen deer, opossum territorial disputes, a family of raccoons, owls conversing, and the coyote calling the jet. And who knows how many insects and spiders? And last night, my photo subject was curious enough to stay put as I crept closer to let the camera flash have better effect. To this whitetail, I was no doubt the creepy one.

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