Simple Sensory Perception

night hiking...

night hiking...

Into the dark, follow your senses, leaving behind the artificial lights, the jumble of your thoughts, the bustle of the day. Enter the woods behind twilight to find the silence.

Night hiking is a favorite activity of mine, largely because it is something of a rare treat. Most of our natural areas are public preserves that close after sunset. Unless we happen to be spending the night at a campground, we don’t generally have access to the trails after dark. For the most part, wherever we go at night we are under artificial lighting. Street lights, porch lights, endless photons spilling over from myriad sources all flood the nighttime environment of the built landscape. As a result, we are losing our ability to maneuver in the dark, losing our night vision, losing touch with the many senses that can rise to the compensatory challenge when vision is limited. We have forgotten how to be in darkness.

Night hiking can reawaken our senses. If we set out on a trail in full awareness we have much to discover. Sounds and other sensations take on new meaning and import. Our sensory awareness might extend beyond the limiting frame of our bodies and expand into the space around us, alerting us to the branch hanging at head level, or that dip in the eroded trail, without us ever “seeing” the hazard with our eyes. This simple sensory perception can be cultivated and refined, honed like any other tool to keen sharpness if only we practice.

Taking to the trail by starlight, by moonlight, or by the pale ambient light reflected under a blanket of clouds, can lead us to a heightened awareness that brings a deeper appreciation for the subtleties of the night. The stillness. The silence. The tactile sense of the very atmosphere. These things come alive.

In preparation for leading a public night hike I recently roamed the trails at Severson Dells and came to pause in an opening of the trees along Hall Creek. I leaned back on an angled trunk and relaxed, gazing upward. The stars filled the sky with patterns at once mysterious and familiar, dazzling in their silent array. Later, on the deck at the pond, out in the open, I could discern the Milky Way, a rare enough sight in these parts, these days. I returned to the parking lot renewed and reinvigorated.

If the notion of a night hike appeals to you, consider visiting Severson Dells during our Luminaria program, December 8 or 9, 2017 (6-9pm). We’ll have a trail lit with festive candles, and for those called to explore further, our staff will be available to lead walks into the woods and fields under the night sky. You’re welcome to join us under the stars.