I saw the light — not!

Published 10:31 pm Tuesday, October 16, 2018

By Biff and Susan Andrews

I woke up at about midnight a couple of nights ago. I looked at the bedside clock. Nothing. I arose and confirmed my suspicions. Tropical Storm Michael had turned off our lights.

Normally our neighborhood is lit up like a Christmas tree — three street lights, four neighbors with front walk lights on, and the annoying guy across the way with the motion sensor light that comes on every time a leaf blows past. All were dark. There was still the lighted sky of downtown Suffolk visible, but no visible lights even up on Pruden Boulevard near our neighborhood.


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And the house was dark inside. No channel indicated on the cable box. No clocks showing on the microwave or stove. No night light in the hallway. Even the light on the electric toothbrush was extinguished. Dark!

A brief review of my limited knowledge of eye function: the eye contains rods and cones. Rods govern black/white and night vision, and cones control daylight and color vision. Humans are heavy on the cones — hence Van Gogh’s colors; deer, raccoon and cats are heavy on the rods — hence night feedings and hunting. Deer don’t paint bright colors, but they can follow a game trail in the total dark.

When I was in the Army, we trained with night vision goggles. It’s amazing to be able to see people, vehicles, weapons, etc. in the “total” dark. It’s like being a deer for the night. There’s a lot of “ambient light” out there that can be amplified. So, sitting in “total” darkness, one’s mind begins to consider the unusual circumstances. We have become accustomed to lights large and small. Indoors and out. Lighting a battery lantern only intensified the feeling of “being in the dark.” One doesn’t know when the very competent and hard-working Dominion Power folks will rescue you. (As of this writing, half a week later, there are still 6,000 Virginians in the dark).

We lost power for 10 days after Isabel. I lived at the end of a rural lane in Isle of Wight

County for years, where we lost power in every heavy dew. Not my first rodeo. Still, this was different.

We have become so dependent on our devices, the 24-hour news cycle, the lit clocks around the house, the street lights (much less traffic lights at intersections) that we are seriously impacted by their loss, if only briefly. And the impact of the “light pollution” on wildlife? When was the last time you saw a beautiful lime green luna moth? Not in recent memory, unless you go camping. The deer and the coyote have adapted to suburban lights, but not the luna moth. Oh, well … progress.

Sometimes it takes the darkness to make one “see the light”— see the truth of how we are changing as a people.

Susan and Bradford “Biff” Andrews are retired teachers and master naturalists who have been outdoor people all their lives, exploring and enjoying the woods, swamps, rivers and beaches throughout the region for many years. Email them at b.andrews22@live.com.