Acquainted with the Night

All rumor to the contrary, I am not nocturnal. The High Plains’s high-elevation sun and I just don’t play well together. That and when I was a teenager, walking at night gave me both exercise and a reason to get out and think dark proto-Goth thoughts while looking at the stars and being strange. After all, Musical Starstreams only came on once a week. As things worked out, I ended up in a number of pursuits where familiarity with being out at night has a certain advantage to it. And so I still go out in the dark.

My parents also encouraged Sib’s and my interest in astronomy. Dad grew up sailing and doing some celestial navigation, and ended up buying us a small Celestron (TM) telescope when I was about ten or twelve. We set it up on a tripod in the front yard and counted off all the Messier objects, planets, comets, and other sky things we could find. Sib outgrew the hobby, but I kept it up well into college. I aced the naked-eye part of the astronomy final in part because I was used to calling off constellations. I’m glad we didn’t have to spell star names, though! I also discovered that Wal-Mart’s parking lot lights are probably one of the single worst things to happen to urban stargazing in the past twenty years or so. For some reason they pick the brightest things they can find, and then don’t add scatter-shields. Frustrates the heck out of me. OK, rant over. There’s a pleasure in stepping out of the door and into a different world, one lit by stars and perhaps the moon. I especially cherish the hard winter nights, the air cleared by a passing cold front, the stars so bright and close I could reach up and pluck them from the heavens. Orion, Taurus, Cassiopeia, Canis Major and Minor, all my old friends. To me the holiday season begins when Orion first rises above the horizon at sunset. The Hunter comforts me, even though he marks the coldest, hardest part of the year.

Apparently, I have better-than-average night vision. This may be in part because of my eye coloring (pale), and might be related to my astigmatism. No, I have never asked my eye doctor(s) about it, or looked it up on the ‘Net. It’s just become apparent over time that I do better in low-light conditions than many people I know. This is an advantage when I’m out star-gazing or walking before dawn, or after sunset. It stinks when I’m confronted by a car with those mutter mutter blue-white super halogen or whatever headlights. Some day, when my legions of flying monkeys take over the world and make me queen, I will line up all the car designers who thought those headlights were a good idea, lock them in a dark room until they have full night-vision, and then spot-light them with their own creations.

I also prefer to work in low-light conditions, something that used to bother my parents. For a while, bothering the parents made it an even more desirable activity. Now, I just prefer to have a desk large enough to have a small lamp that shines down on my keyboard, so I can type with the room-light off. Yes, I can touch type, but some days, I need to see my hands. And the water bottle. Having shadows around me helps me focus, reduces the distractions that interrupt my ideas.

I have a dark streak inside me, as well. I avoid certain subgenres and authors (and musicians) because their work resonates too well with something best left sleeping. Or better directed through my writing into a less harmful form. The abyss has looked back, but the people around me don’t need to know that.

So I write, and watch the stars.

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16 thoughts on “Acquainted with the Night

  1. Ah, Aldeberan, the Pleiades, El-Nath which abuts Auriga. Rigel, Betelgeuse, the Orion nebula that most people think is a 4th star and contains the horse. -smile- I know them. (Alpha Auriga is the setting for a derivative series I play in.)

    I suspect that you, like me, have more rods than cones in your eyes. My low-light vision is still fairly decent even though I have hit my 50’s. (when it is supposed to deteriorate.) How is your color acuity?

  2. I always said it was because I was part cat. I used to sneak out the window after everyone was asleep and roam the neighborhood. Now-a-days my big fun is navigating in the moonless wood. Verrrry slowly. You get to hear a lot though.

    I started trying to learn the constellations now that I can see them all. I used to have a link to a page that had a map you could orient and was doing well but I lost it with the computer before last.

  3. Interesting observation about night vision. My son and I both have excellent (freakish?) night vision, while my wife and daughter can’t see their hand in front of their face after dusk without a full moon. (Minor heartbreak to watch my young daughter go out hunting fireflies, but only see them when they’re lit up.) The girls have much better color vision, though. I tell people that I’m not color blind, I’m color stupid. Those subtle shades of difference are generally lost on me. (Although I generally can tell them apart if they’re right next to each other.) I will admit that I didn’t understand that other people couldn’t see in the dark until I was in my 30’s. I thought it was just my wife who couldn’t.

    However – When my eyes get tired, I see different colors at different depths, especially on computer screens. It’s a trifle disorienting to have the reds hanging out in front of the screen, and the blues deep in the background. Anybody else get that one?

    • The primary colors are enough for me, too, or at least the next level out.
      I didn’t realize they were connected. It makes sense.
      I’m not unhappy with that trade off.

      • I actually got educated on it by my sister. She has good color acuity and bad low-light, where I am the opposite. I have decent low-light vision but my color acuity is so-so.

  4. “It stinks when I’m confronted by a car with those mutter mutter blue-white super halogen or whatever headlights. Some day, when my legions of flying monkeys take over the world and make me queen, I will line up all the car designers who thought those headlights were a good idea, lock them in a dark room until they have full night-vision, and then spot-light them with their own creations.”

    Can I help? Please? Pretty please… with sugar on top?

    I remember when those blue headlights first came out, I was working with a guy who commented how he liked them, because they made it so much easier for oncoming traffic to see. After I managed to pick my jaw up off the floorboards, I gave him a piece of my mind that probably still has his ears blistered.

    • I hate those things. I try to block them with my hand and concentrate on the white line until I can see again.
      And just hope he stays in his lane.

      I don’t drive much at night any more. or much at all, except around the property.

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