Stranger in the Night

The day is done

It’s time to go inside because it’s getting dark and cold. You’ve seen how the fading light can change a garden: those flowers that cheered you up in the daytime begin to look watchful, that tree you like to sit beneath becomes animated and the path that invited you in is now just a warning that asks, “Should you be here?” This place feels so different as the night spreads its shadow.020_20539881418046236450.jpg

The night is special

It’s easy to see why our protective instincts kick in when we find ourselves out at dusk without proper light. Colors and shapes loose their distinction and everything appears changed, strange. This lack of familiarity is not generally considered a comfortable place to be. That’s OK, maybe you don’t always need your comfort catered to…maybe nighttime isn’t for you. 018_181378638893561125779.jpg

Humans are active in the day, making us diurnal. Another quality of being human is how we alter our environment to better suit our needs. Take, for instance, Artificial Lighting At Night (ALAN). In the last 100 years people in the industrialized world have tried to remove our connection to the rhythms of the natural environment by extending the day with the use of ALAN. People were able to be more productive but, even so, getting home at night in the dark was a problem. The amount of energy needed to light up the houses and streets was huge and, even early on, seen as a negative.

This idea to conserve energy led to the eventual implementation of Daylight Saving Time (DST). DST is suppose to make us get up earlier in the spring and summer to take advantage of light from the sun and therefore use less electricity at night. Whether or not this has helped us to conserve energy is a much debated topic. (I know with DST ending last Sunday it’s thrown off my schedule all week and made me feel tired. I thought I was getting sick but, no, just an unnatural change in time!) One thing that is for certain though, the night is increasingly being polluted by light.

You light up my night


When I first heard about light pollution it was in reference to not being able to see the stars. While this seemed like a modern day tragedy, I couldn’t see it as “real” pollution. Then I started to hear about light from screens disrupting peoples ability to sleep. That seemed to have more real life consequences because of the health issues that were associated with it. My view on light at night was still very human centric though.

Stop for a moment and try to consider that the world doesn’t revolve around you. Now think about it rotating through space. This rotation gives us regular cycles of day and night. The Earth’s tilting axis causes seasonal changes by varying the length of time spent in the light or dark part of the cycle. It is this fundamental environmental cue that has shaped the ecology of our world. This circadian rhythm (a 24 hour cycle) of day and night is encoded in the DNA of all living things. That’s why the basic functions and needs have a time of day that they naturally settle into. An example would be how people didn’t “decide” to sleep at night. It’s been built into our programming through evolution.

Not everyone loves the sun

Kuan Yin lit up by solar LED lights. Time to consider a better way to add drama to the night garden.

There is an entire nocturnal environment that depends on the darkness of night. Scientists are beginning to study how light pollution impacts the animals, birds, insects, fungi and plants that depend on the darkness for their basic survival activities. I’ve always been drawn to the creepier side of life.

Even as a kid my favorite color was black, I preferred places that looked a little decrepit and my first mentor in gardening was Morticia Addams who gardened by moonlight and cut the blooms off of roses! I remember thinking, “When I grow up I want to have a moonlight garden.”  Suddenly, my future seemed cool, something I could look forward to. Da na, na, na, “Snap! Snap!” Da na, na, na, da, na, na, na, da, na, na, na, na, “Clip, Clip!”

I know not everyone cares about bats and moths and the plants that get pollinated by these night visitors but, you don’t have to to care about light pollution. People need the dark as well the daylight. Remember, it’s a part of the circadian cycle that keeps our minds and bodies happy and healthy.

There are two organizations doing important work to curb light pollution International Dark-Sky Association  and Dark Sky SocietyCheck out their websites. There’s a lot of good information about the different types of light pollution, good and bad light fixtures, how to get involved in your own community and even how to talk to a neighbor about their A-hem “bad” lighting.

Now, go forward my minions, make the night dark again!

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13 thoughts on “Stranger in the Night

  1. Some of the flowers that I miss from Southern California are the nocturnal flowers that get so fragrant in the evening. Angel’s trumpet (those that are fragrant) is more fragrant in the evening than it is during the day. Cereus cactus and epiphyllum that are so fragrant late at night close during the day. My favorite of the fragrant nocturnal flowers though is the common and weedy night blooming jasmine!


    1. Yes! Jasmine is my favorite too! I’ve tried to grow it up here in Port Townsend but, it didn’t make it past the summer.
      Sounds like Southern California is a good place for an early morning walk. Just remember to leave the flashlight a home!

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      1. Night blooming jasmine is Cestrum nocturnum. It is not related to the real jasmines. It is something of a complaisant weed that has naturalized in some of the lush landscapes of Beverly Hills (in the Los Angeles region). I met it for the first time in the Miracle Mile District of Los Angeles, where it is not quite as prolific in the more refined landscapes, but common enough to get almost too fragrant on warm evenings. It is not always in bloom, but is most fragrant on warm evenings, even without humidity. Fragrance is not as powerful when the arid Santa Ana Wind blows, but there are a few flowers that seem to be at their best at such times.

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        1. I can sometimes find it in nurseries here. I have grown it, even as an annual, just because the fragrance is so worth it. In our region, it can live for many years. I never know when the frost will get to it.


        2. If I had access to it, I could send cuttings. It is lacking from my garden now, and I am not going to Southern California any time soon. I have never seen seed for it, although, I know that it seeds readily in some of the neighborhoods where I work down south.


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