It’s spring and as I watch the sun descending, it paints the western sky yellow, then gold, then flaming crimson. Darkness wells from the forest floors chasing the last vestiges of daylight up the trees until its last gilding gleam slips wraith-like from the treetops and disappears into the darkening sky. Once robin egg blue, the heavens overhead deepen in hue from east to west through deeper azure to purple and black. An errant breeze swirls through the trees, murmuring and sighing like a lost river. Silence, broken only by an occasional distant dog’s bark, settles over the forest.
Sprinkles of light begin to appear in the firmament as stars seem magically to appear, a few at a time, then more and more until the blackness of space scintillates with their patterns. I imagine the “ancient ones” who, unimpeded by garish outdoor lighting and air pollution, gazed heavenward and allowed their myths, religions and imaginations to blend forming in their minds-eye patterns of mighty hunters with their dogs, gigantic lions, goats, fishes, water dippers and bears.
Although astronomers tell us that the stars are in constant motion, racing endlessly through space, in our lifetimes there will be virtually no change in their patterns. Polaris, the North Star at the tip of Ursa Minor will still be at the point in the sky around which all its companions rotate and anchors the handle of the Little Dipper. The Big Dipper in Ursa Major, The Great Bear, now lies high in the northern sky while Orion The Hunter with its bright yellow-orange star Betelgeuse is high in the western sky followed by his faithful hunting dog and the brightest star in our skies – Sirius.
The unchanging view of the stars enhances my feelings of stability, peace and happiness. In a world where almost nothing seems stable or at peace, the celestial display sings to my heart, touching harmonic chords that quiet my fretful earthly concerns.
The absolute quiet of the night is transitory. A restless bird chirps, perhaps protesting a roost mate hogging the bed. A branch creaks under the gentle nudge of the wind. Then the choruses begin to tune up. Frogs, especially shrill spring peepers, and toads give voice to their love songs.
Mockingbirds, awash in hormones, begin their amorous seasonal attempts at wooing a mate. These loudmouthed suitors have no songs unique to themselves. They copy the songs of numberless other birds and sing them in rapid succession one after another. These interesting birds mimic not only other avians but even cell phone ringers, doorbells and other artificial noisemakers!
The last musicians on the nighttime stage are usually our canine friends the coyotes. Their performances are generally choruses rather than solo events, and they all strive to outdo each other. Their yip, yip, howl is a constant reminder that the night belongs to many more than you and me and that’s a good feeling.
Fragrances are beginning to pervade the evening breezes. The forests are starting to be alive with blossoms this time of year and their perfume wafts gently on the breezes, providing aroma therapy complementing the night’s tranquilizing effects.
Even though the biologist in me knows that night brings predatory dangers to the creatures of the woods, my reaction to its coming is tranquility - a peace of heart and mind. For me, it has always been a time of quiet contemplation, of respite from the trials of the day. All nature seems to slow from frantic daytime activities. It’s a wonderfully calming time. But, its events are usually missed by most of us as we retreat into our snug security cubicles and do everything we can to drive back the darkness with electric light.
Let me challenge you to acquire a new familiarity with the magical events of the night. As lyrics from Phantom of The Opera recommend – “Let your soul take you where you long to be” and experience “The Music of The Night” in the fields and forests.
Dr. Risk is a professor emeritus in the College of Forestry and Agriculture at Stephen F. Austin State University in Nacogdoches, Texas. Content © Paul H. Risk, Ph.D. All rights reserved, except where otherwise noted. Click firstname.lastname@example.org to send questions, comments, or request permission for use.