TO KNOW THE DARKBy Wendell BerryTo go in the dark with a light is to know the light.To know the dark, go dark.Go without sight and find that the dark, too, blooms and sings,And is traveled by dark feet and dark wings.
It is 6:15 p.m. and the start of evening programs. Tonight is my favorite activity, the night hike. A night hike is unlike any other evening program. It is a sensory experience that teaches students about nocturnal animals adaptations. As humans, we are not nocturnal creatures. To hike at night is to intentionally disconnect one of our major senses, sight, and activate other senses such as hearing, smell, touch, and taste. This is my favorite activity to do with students because it encourages them to bring awareness to the present moment.
Tonight is a typical winter evening in Jackson, overcast and snowy. Overcoming the challenges of weather is normal in any field day, but for a night hike, weather determines the entire program. Cold temperatures, harsh wind, and snow can dampen any activity, but at night these conditions limit the ability to see the stars. Tonight, like many others, astronomy will not be touched on. Instead the focus will be on listening. The students and I will explore the swan ponds at the Conservation Research Center without the use of flashlights. When we leave the van, I remind the students to walk quietly and try to listen to all the sounds that surround them. Not shortly after, we begin to hear the vociferous calls of the trumpeter swans. Even without the light, I can sense the excitement in the students who realize that we are not alone. The emotional fear attached with darkness begins to drift away as the group continues further along the trail. We stop several times to play various games which highlight nocturnal adaptations. At these moments, the students’ laughter begins to harmonize with the swan calls and I am satisfied by another sensory experience hidden by the night sky.