Nature Column 10.29

As I write the wind is howling outside, banging against my windows and doors. Rain is intermittent, but fierce when it slams against the house, and the cats and dog are snuggled up as close to me as they can be.

We got up in the dark, heated water for coffee and, bam, out went the power and up went the candles. At least we got the coffee made. Peeks at our phones show that schools are called off all over the Cape, and police are begging people to stay off the roads. It is so dark and wild out there I can’t imagine why anyone other than those being paid to repair things would venture out.

We are among the fortunate, of course, with a secure home in which to huddle. I live in a village with many homeless, but yesterday a small army of folks were out there working to secure safe places for them. I hope they are warm and dry.

Nature is feeling her oats, my grandmother would have said. She was a champ at working around times of no power or heat, no refrigeration or lights. Sometimes I thought she got a bit overexcited about such things. Out came the candles and matches, the old iron soup pot, and the stovetop percolator. She grew up with wood and coal stoves, so an old gas stove was easy-peasy to fire up. I think she secretly enjoyed this brief foray into wildness.

Nature, like my formerly 3-year-old daughter, constantly reminds us that we are not the boss. We may try to insist this isn’t true but here I sit in the dark, typing on my phone to make deadline.

An amazing quantity of organisms actually thrive in the dark, whether it is the dark of night, the deep forest or the darkest reaches of the deepest seas. Their eyes and ears, even their skin, are all acclimated to working where the light doesn’t reach. Some have big eyes, but some have no eyes at all, depending on other senses such as their hearing or smell or touch.

Here on the Cape, we have a fair number of nocturnal animals, though as we become more suburban fewer animals are truly nocturnal anymore. Those of us who grew up thinking skunks, owls, raccoons, and other such animals were only out at night have had to adjust our thinking just as these creatures have. They, however, still have an advantage over us in the dark.

Deep in the sea, down in caves, or underground, there is no day or night in terms of light and dark. It is simply dark all the time. Imagine that. We wouldn’t be able to cope. The organisms that do have some pretty wild adaptations, including luminescence and radar-like ways to navigate and communicate.

Adapting to our environment is an ongoing process. When the weather is frightful, as it is on this morning, we can stay inside, light a few candles or an oil lamp, and snuggle up under cozy blankets to wait it out. We can nap or read or chat or gaze into the candlelight, thinking of other times and places where this is the norm. Electricity, after all, hasn’t been around very long in historical terms. And yet, our whole idea of civilization now depends on it.

A day or week without power serves to remind us that we really aren’t the ones with the power when it comes right down to it. We, just like the sparrows and squirrels, have no choice but to wait out the storms.

Mary Richmond is an artist, writer, naturalist and educator who grew up on the Cape and lives in Hyannis. More information at www.capecodartandnature.com.

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