At Home in the Dark

At Home in the Dark: Western Screech Owl Fledgling Courtesy and Copyright Katarzyna Bilicka, Photographer
Western Screech Owl Fledgling
Courtesy & © Katarzyna Bilicka, Photographer
All year I wait for the summer evenings. All year I long for the oddity of ‘warm and dark,’ of trilling owls flickering from treetop to treetop, and for the scent of hot baked earth cooling as on a sill. Summer evenings evoke in me joy in being out of doors, living within the intact Eden which lies just below our own preconceptions, and deepening my appetite for life. Summer evenings, those dark arid cradles of Utah’s providence, have other benefits, too.

It’s in the dark that you can live in the footsteps of local literatos. We can heed the words of Utah’s Ed Abbey, that: “There’s another disadvantage to the use of the flashlight: like many other mechanical gadgets it tends to separate a man from the world around him. If I switch it on my eyes adapt to it and I can see only the small pool of light it makes in front of me; I am isolated. Leaving the flashlight in my pocket where it belongs, I remain a part of the environment I walk through and my vision, though limited, has no sharp or definite boundary.”

It is also in the dark that we can allow our eyes a rest from glowing rectangles, and for the rest of our navigational senses to pick up slack. Our ears listen for how sound meanders in the landscape, detecting the clitter clatter of dogs on the deck, or chickens working their scratch. Our nose picks up the scent of a neighbor’s firepit to the east, and when the wind shifts the humidity from another neighbor’s evening watering to the west.

It is in the dark that we can also learn to see that we share spaces with corpuscularities and nocturalites. Those trilling owls, Western Screech Owls to be exact, who emerge from their deadstand cavities and prowl for rodenta. When one spots a human watching it, it watches back, then dances a shimmy-rumba-polka. I imagine that it’s waiting for us to communicate, too.

The dark also brings the insects galore which fill the nights making good on their pollination out of the heat of the day, playing odds with the primroses and their opening hours, and some finding the blood meal they need from undeeted legs, arms, head, feet, and neck. Friends will tell you when there’s a mosquito on your face. Good friends will smack your face for you.

Lastly, the dark gives us our stars. I often need to remind myself that it isn’t that they are out at night, but that they are just no longer obscured by the light of day. The stars are always there, but in day they are dimmed into the blue sky void, and in our city nights given mute by our love of lights which would make Lycurgus roll over in his simple, unmarked grave. That said, they are still there for us to see as we have for as long as life has existed on this earth, but only if we choose to see them. Long ago, looking up and wondering was our choice, and luckily it still is today.

So as your summer progresses and perhaps you find yourself in need of a sigh of relief from woe, I’d invite you to leave your flashlights, glowing rectangles, and worries inside. Step out of doors at dusk and stay into the evening. Hear the music and laughter of a party down the block. Smell the tapestry of worlds that is held in the wind. Feel the mosquitos live because you live. Choose to look up and see infinity in the stars. Know that the dark is not a scary place to be if you learn to see it for what it is and can be.

I’m Patrick Kelly, and I’m Wild About Utah.
 
Credits:

Images: Image Courtesy & Copyright Katarzyna Bilicka, Photographer, all rights reserved
Audio: Contains audio Courtesy & Copyright Kevin Colver
Text:    Patrick Kelly, Director of Education, Stokes Nature Center, https://logannature.org
Included Links: Lyle Bingham, Webmaster, WildAboutUtah.org

Additional Reading

Wild About Utah, Posts by Patrick Kelly

Stokes Nature Center in Logan Canyon, https://www.logannature.org/

Abbey, Edward. Desert Solitaire. Touchstone (January 15, 1990) http://www.amazon.com/Desert-Solitaire-Edward-Abbey/dp/0671695886

Western Screech Owl, Overview, All About Birds, The Cornell Lab of Ornithology, https://www.allaboutbirds.org/guide/Western_Screech-Owl/overview

Western Screech Owl, Utah Birds, http://www.utahbirds.org/birdsofutah/ProfilesS-Z/WesternScreechOwl.htm
Featured Article by Eric Huish: http://www.utahbirds.org/featarts/2004/OwlBox/OwlBox1.htm
Gallery Pictures: http://www.utahbirds.org/birdsofutah/BirdsS-Z/WesternScreechOwl.htm



Dark Sky Parks

Dark Sky Parks: The Milky Way Courtesy Pixabay
The Milky Way
Courtesy Pixabay
Chances are that if you step outside your front door at night and look up, you can get a pretty good view of the night sky. Even if you live in a bigger city or town, a short journey by car, bike, or foot can usually get you to some amazing stargazing places. And that’s because you live in a wonderfully wild place called Utah.

We are lucky to be able to experience natural darkness in so many places around Utah. Over 99% of all people in industrialized nations today live under light-polluted skies, and 2/3s of Americans can no longer see the Milky Way from their homes. But in Utah, we have the darkest skies on average out of any state in the lower 48, and the recognition for these pristine conditions has reached international levels. The world’s first dark sky park was designated right here in Utah at Natural Bridges National Monument. In fact, with 18 official certified dark sky places, Utah has the highest concentration Internationally recognized dark sky places in the entire world.

More and more, we are recognizing how important natural darkness is to our natural and human communities. Wildlife depends on natural darkness for their survival, and light pollution can interfere with reproduction, migration, and even predator avoidance for some wildlife species. For humans, increased light pollution can interrupt sleep patterns, interfere with immune responses, and increase risk for obesity. Naturally dark skies can contribute to positive experiences for people outdoors as well, like an experience of awe.

So next time you want to head outdoors to connect with natural world, consider going somewhere at night. If you want to visit a designated dark sky area, jump online and search “Utah dark sky parks” and plan a trip. Who knows? Maybe you will even get a better night sleep and reduce your stress.

I’m Zach Miller, and I’m Wild About Utah.

Natural Quiet and Darkness in our National Parks-Credits:
Photos:
    Courtesy Pixabay,
Audio: Courtesy and Copyright
Text: Zach Miller, Quinney College of Natural Resources, Utah State University

Additional Reading

Leavitt, Shauna, Dark Skies, Wild About Utah, January 1, 2018, https://wildaboututah.org/dark-skies/

Leavitt, Shauna, Natural Quiet and Darkness in our National Parks, Wild About Utah, May 6, 2019, https://wildaboututah.org/natural-quiet-and-darkness-in-our-national-parks/

Strand, Holly, Of Shooting Stars, Wild About Utah, August 6, 2009, https://wildaboututah.org/of-shooting-stars/

Cokinos, Christopher. 2009. The Fallen Sky: An Intimate History of Shooting Stars. Penguin Group, Inc. http://www.amazon.com/Fallen-Sky-Intimate-History-Shooting/dp/1585427209

Cedar Breaks National Monument Designated as an International Dark Sky Park, https://www.nps.gov/cebr/learn/news/cedar-breaks-national-monument-designated-as-an-international-dark-sky-park.htm

Burkitt, Bree, Cedar Breaks recognized as Dark Sky Park, The Spectrum, https://www.thespectrum.com/story/news/local/cedar-city/2017/03/09/cedar-breaks-recognized-dark-sky-park/98980850/

Spotlight – The Cedar Breaks National Monument Master Astronomer Program, Colorado Plateau Dark Sky Cooperative, https://cpdarkskies.org/2018/10/17/spotlight-the-cedar-breaks-national-monument-master-astronomer-program/

Clear Sky Charts, Utah, Attilla Danko, ClearDarkSky.com, http://cleardarksky.com/csk/prov/Utah_charts.html

Utah Leads The World With Nine International Dark Sky Parks, International Dark-Sky Association, http://www.darksky.org/utah-leads-the-world-with-nine-international-dark-sky-parks/

Dark Sky Parks, Utah Office of Tourism, https://www.visitutah.com/things-to-do/dark-sky-parks

Top 5 Star Gazing Spots in Utah, Utah.com, Utah Travel Industry Website, https://utah.com/article/top-5-star-gazing-spots

Eyes In The Sky: Exploring Global Light Pollution With Satellite Maps, International Dark-Sky Association, http://www.darksky.org/eyes-in-the-sky-exploring-global-light-pollution-with-satellite-maps/

Dark Skies, Antelope Island State Park, https://stateparks.utah.gov/parks/antelope-island/dark-skies/

Utah State Parks Dark Skies Program, State Parks, Utah Department of Natural Resources, https://stateparks.utah.gov/resources/utah-state-parks-dark-sky-initiative/

Stargazing, Arches National Park, https://www.nps.gov/arch/planyourvisit/stargazing.htm

Lightscape / Night Sky, Arches National Park, https://www.nps.gov/arch/learn/nature/lightscape.htm

Night Skies, Natural Bridges National Monument, https://www.nps.gov/nabr/learn/nature/darkskypark.htm

Marc Toso, AncientSkys.com, http://www.ancientskys.com/