by Coggin Heeringa
“The Night of Wonder.” In answer to many inquiries: Yes!! We will again offer a candlelit walk for folks to see Crossroads in a different light on Sunday, December 5, from 4:30 to 6 p.m. (The weather date for this event is Sunday, December 12.)
This event became an instant tradition last December. The Collins Learning Center was DARK, “dark” meaning closed. No classes, no school groups, no lectures. No learning in the Learning Center. The staff worked mostly from home, taking turns coming in to work alone in a chilly, empty building. Putting up holiday decorations seemed a colossal waste of time and besides, the Friends of Crossroads, our volunteer group, usually made “decking the halls” a party. That was out. It was grim.
However, some good came out of the shutdown. Many families, individuals and groups discovered and started using our trails for exercise, for mental health, and as a safe place to get together. At the very least, we could make the outside of the building festive. Our volunteers could gather greens. And maybe we could put up twinkle lights and invite the community to see the first lighting…but then what? We knew that candlelight ski events were popular, but there was not enough snow to groom.
But we could line our trails with luminaria and make sure people kept a social distance as they hiked through the winter woods. We could call it The Night of Wonder. So we put out the word. We inadvertently scheduled the event on a Packer game night and it was chilly, but at least our volunteers and Board members could be together outside and maybe thirty or forty folks might show up. We could even give out cookies at the end of the trail. And guess what? Several hundred people showed up to walk the woods on a cold winter night. It truly was a Night of Wonder.
So, mark your calendars and be ready to see field and forest in a different light, but not in color. After dark (and it will be dark … the moon will be a mere sliver and will set that night at 5:23 p.m.) the human eye simply does not see colors. Everything will appear in shades of black and grey. The lack of color in low-light situations is not something we think about because we’ve never known any different. However, most people are aware that when going from light into darkness, it takes several minutes for their eyes to adjust and even when they do, they still can’t see sharp images or details.
Does wildlife see color in the dark? No creatures can see in total darkness, but apparently frogs and toads can see color in very low light. Moths and geckos detect color at night. But the creatures which might be out and about in the preserve on the Night of Wonder probably, like us, will see in shades of grey.
Owls have fabulous night vision because their eyes are large and they have five times the rod density of human eyes. Rods are the photoreceptor cells in the eye that enable low light vision, while cone cells are responsible for color vision.
Because their eyes are so full of rods, owls have very few cones. Consequently, they can see blue, and maybe even ultra-violet. Though they see just fine in bright daylight, owls don’t perceive most colors of the spectrum.
White tail deer also have far more rods than cones, but they are not totally color-blind. They see colors on the blue end of the spectrum, but deer do not see green, red and orange the way we do. Consequently, “blaze orange” or for that matter, “camo pink” probably do not stand out for them. Deer have evolved in such a way that they “sacrificed” color vision in exchange for remarkably acute vision at dawn and dusk.
Nocturnal mammals such as field mice, raccoons and cats have limited color vision. They may be able to differentiate muted colors in daylight, but they all see very well in low-light situations. A skunk has poor vision at night, but it’s even worse in daylight.
Many nocturnal animals have a structure which reflects light called a tapetum lucidum in each eye. If bright light shines directly in these animals’ faces at night, their eyes shine in an eerie red or amber color.
If you participate in the Crossroads Night of Wonder, you may or may not see our nocturnal wildlife, but they will see you, not in color, but very well.
In the coming weeks, Crossroads will celebrate Green Friday the day following Thanksgiving and will also host several educational programs. On Wednesday, November 24, Wild Ones of the Door Peninsula will screen a video called “The Little Things That Run the World.” At the Science Saturday family program in the Collins Center Lab, the topic will be Wetlands. The Beekeepers Club will hold a demonstration on making mead on Tuesday evening. And because there is no hunting, Crossroads is a safe place to hike during hunting season.
Crossroads at Big Creek Learning Center and Nature Preserve is located at 2041 Michigan Street, Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin. Crossroads is a 501(c)3 organization committed to offering education, conducting research and providing outdoor experiences to inspire environmental stewardship in learners of all ages and from all backgrounds. We welcome your support! Become a member of Crossroads by mailing a contribution to P.O. Box 608, Sturgeon Bay, WI 54235, or donate online at crossroadsatbigcreek.org. Masks are recommended inside buildings.