The stargazing expience goes beyond turning your eyes to the stars. When the Sun goes down, another world awakens.
To really experience the nighttime world, we must leave our artificially lit interiors, turn off the patio lights, set aside our digitial devices, and turn off the music. The night offers something for all the senses if we create the right environment.
Nature fills the early moments of dusk with activity. The animals and insects of the day finish bedding down for the night, but you still might hear the flapping of bird wings in their nests. The bats flutter in with their barely audible echolocation sounds as they fill their bellies with insects.
Night moths and other nocturnal insects make their nightly rounds. Night-blooming cactus flowers, evening primrose, and other flowers of the night rely on these noctural pollenators to help them reproduce.
If you are in the desert, get a black light flashlight and look for scorpions. They mostly hide under rocks or in wood or brick piles during the day. They are nocturnal, coming out at night to look for prey, to engage in their mating dances, and to dig burrows.
As the minutes tick by, the sky grows darker and darker, pulling back the curtain on hundreds of fainter stars. At the same time, our own eyes adjust to the darkness, allowing more starlight to penetrate to the brain.
The owls start chattering to one another from across neighboring backyards. The crickets tune up for their symphony.
In the desert, the javalina families take their trek through the desert to find food, grunting as they go. The coyotes meander around, on the hunt for something tasty. When they get lucky, they call their friends and family to share the feast.
Don’t forget to take notice of what you can smell, too. As the night cools, the air is filled with the beautiful scent of blooming trees in the spring and summer, decaying leaves in the fall, and smoke from fireplaces in the winter.
For a unique night sky experience, embark on a Full Moon hike or walk. This is a great way to connect with the nighttime environment. Bring a flashlight with a red filter to help you see where you’re going with minimal affect on your night vision. However, the Moon is usually so bright that you won’t likely need to use the flashlight.
Night photography or astrophotography is a great after-dark activity. Take a class and practice your skill under the stars. Some new smartphones are able to take great night sky photos.
Think of something local and in season that you can enjoy for an experience of all the senses. Watermelon, apple pie, prickly pear ice cream…use your imagination.
SLOW DOWN AND BREATHE
Instead of continually living at odds with the dark, trying to banish it until we fall into bed at night, we can embrace it and experience it. Half of the human experience takes place on the dark side of Earth. Nature’s nighttime beauty and wonder can only be known by going out into it.
Night is a time to exhale, to slow down, to self-reflect, to contemplate the larger world and universe beyond what we see with our eyes during the day. It’s a time to grow quiet, to sit close with others, to express our inner selves. It’s a time for children to share about their day, their dreams, their fears, their challenges, their ideas about life. It’s a time for partners to do the same. A time for lovers to shut out the rest of the world.
First and foremost, be a night sky tourist in your own backyard.
Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature-Deficit Disorder by Richard Louv
Let There be Night: Testimony on Behalf of the Dark by Paul Bogard