Darkness

For many of us, it’s hard to imagine what it was like outside at night before the introduction of artificial lights. Have you ever walked through the woods or in a meadow at night dependent solely on star and moonlight? It can be a challenge until your eyes adjust. The darkness is full of mystery and tends to amplify sound; the unknown can play tricks on us. On cloudy nights, the clouds provide insulation that makes noises seem closer than they are. Natural darkness can also instill a sense of peace and wonder. What is really out there?

Recently, the mid-December full moon was bright on the freshly fallen snow and I took some wonderful late night walks with moonlight as my only light source. The walks were brisk and invigorating. Each time I went out, I became less fearful of the night and more conscious of the health benefits: breathing that cold, clean air, getting my legs in shape for ski season, better sleep.

Celestial bodies and meteor showers are much easier to identify once your eyes have adjusted to the night sky. If you’re lucky enough to live in an area where light pollution is at a minimum, it opens up a whole new sky and landscape to explore. Sadly, a large majority of the U.S. population has already lost the ability to see the Milky Way with the naked eye due to light pollution, which is brightest on the east coast. When viewed from space, it looks like a fairly thick line of light along the coast and slightly inland from Florida to southern Maine.

Light pollution, which affects the circadian rhythm in humans, also impacts the sleep-wake cycle in nocturnal animals including bats, owls, foxes, and flying squirrels. Breeding cycles, foraging behaviors, and migratory routes of wildlife including insects, turtles, birds, fish, and reptiles have been similarly affected. Almost two thirds of migratory birds travel during the night, using moon and starlight to navigate. Light pollution interferes with their ability to stay on course and many never make it to their winter nesting grounds.

Plants are also affected by artificial light. Plants take cues from the amount of light and darkness they are exposed to each day, so prolonged exposure to light pollution prevents many shrubs and trees from adjusting to seasonal change at the right time, disrupting their flowering and fruiting cycles.

If we can live with less night light, the entire natural world (including humans) will benefit from a return to darkness after the sun goes down.

 

Pete Muroski

nativelandscaping.net

Nice Tomatoes

July put an end to the streak of wet, cool months. Patiently waiting for the right conditions, many perennials and shrubs that flower from mid June to early July bloomed a bit late. The sun and heat finally arrived on the Fourth of July weekend. I especially enjoyed the phlox, monarda and honeysuckle vine this summer. Rhododendron maximum or giant rosebay rhododendron generally starts blooming in late June into early July. This year’s rosebay began blooming the second week of July. We are in the far northern range of the rosebay hardiness limit and I have stumbled upon pockets of this plant growing along the swamp behind the garden center. To our south in Pennsylvania and Virginia, I’ve seen rosebay grow the size of small trees. It’s a striking plant when grown in small groves. This year’s flowers were short lived as July heated up and became a scorcher.

Some short grasses suffered when the heat and high humidity exposed lawns to red thread fungus. Blackspot, powdery mildew and apple cedar rust could be found in some locations. Japanese beetles, hemlock wooly adelgid and tent caterpillars are few and far between this year. Their numbers sufficiently dropped off because of the prolonged cool, wet spring weather.

As July progressed, we began watering more often. I found container plants quickly dried out as the temperature went well into the nineties. Before the crabgrass set in, I raised the height of cut on the lawn from four to five inches. This saved the lawn from burning out. Wasting water on my lawn is something I will not do; keeping containers, vegetables and fruit trees hydrated is more of a priority.

August is asters, goldenrod, corn, squash, tomato and a second cut of hay. August is early apples, peaches and pears. August begins the harvest.

August is low water. Some streams go right down to a trickle. Ponds and lakes warm up in the hot August sun. August is bullhead season. Catching mud cats in the late evening with a box of worms and a light fish pole are relaxing evenings I will always remember. Observing from the dock how the Martins turn into bats and the muskrats turn to beavers, transitions evening into night.

August daylight is getting noticeably shorter. We lose an hour and a half of sunlight by the end of the month.

Late evening summer thunderstorms are not only interesting to watch, but can drop the warm evening temperature twenty degrees. The August heat can be searing as the Atlantic turns into a sauna. Our first threat of a hurricane can be in the forecast. After a hot, dry summer the warm rain of a tropical storm can help with rain deficits as the summer winds down.

The August full moon is not quite the harvest moon. It’s a mellow, calming and a more hypnotic globe. Let’s call it the generous moon.

The August night can be the maestro of a bug symphony. Crickets, grasshoppers and katydids start wing-scratching right up until first frost. They must have a lot to say before they bed down to a long winter’s nap.

Late August misty mornings are the first sign of fall. As the fog burns off, it exposes the crisp blue morning sky. It’s a perfect time to go out and pick the ripest, juiciest beefsteak tomato. Slice it thin on whole wheat toast with olive oil, salt and pepper. While the bread is toasting, I’m going to make some watered down lemonade. Care to join me?

 

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