Nature Connection: Welcoming The Light

By: Mary Richmond

Snow drops and crocuses. MARY RICHMOND ILLUSTRATION 

By the time you read this we will have turned the now mostly figurative hands on our clocks ahead an hour, giving us an extra hour of light at the end of the day. Ironically we lose one in the early hours of the morning, making this my least favorite week, but there’s not much point in grousing about it, unless I was a grouse, of course, in which case I wouldn’t bother with clocks at all.

Light is an amazing thing. We don’t think about it much since it comes so naturally every day as the sun rises. Over the millennia people have created light in their homes as well, hoping to prolong the time that light overcomes darkness. Open fire torches and candles, gas lights and now, electricity, have brought light into our homes, businesses, vehicles, and streets even in the middle of the darkest night. We, the people, love our light.

Like ourselves, much of nature seems drawn to light. Plants turn toward it, and every house plant lover knows they must turn their plants frequently to prevent lopsided growth. Those who love to fish have been aware for years that fishing at night with lights can draw curious fish near enough to catch, at least theoretically. Fish can still outsmart those trying to catch them, light or no light, but it works often enough to be considered effective.

In nature, the lengthening of light in daylight hours sparks the return of abundance and comparative warmth. It seems to flip a switch on territorial, courting, and mating behaviors. Long days filled with light allow for lots of time to hunt for food to feed little ones as well as adults and most insects, birds, amphibians, fish, reptiles, and mammals take advantage of this.

There’s something about light early in the morning that teases the songs from birds, sends gentle breezes through nascent leaves and blossoms, and brings intoxicating scents of fresh beginnings to those who venture out around dawn. Light helps everything grow, but especially plants. Bushes and trees sense the growing hours of light and let their buds fatten and burst into flower. Bulbs that have overwintered in the frozen, dark ground push up leaves and buds, preparing to greet the spring with fields of color to refresh winter-weary eyes and souls.

If you’ve been out and about this past week you know that change is in the air. Ospreys and plovers are arriving, robins are hunting worms, turtles and frogs are beginning to appear once again and the landscape is greening up. We have a tendency to celebrate warmth as the impetus for all this activity and although it certainly plays a part, the increase in light is responsible for much of it as well, perhaps even more so.

It won’t be long now until the days are longer than the nights, at least in terms of light and dark. We will once again be able to take long walks after dinner and before breakfast if we so desire. The farmer soul in many of us has already awoken but will soon be in overdrive as we prepare our gardens with seeds and dreams of summer harvests that will fill our tables and kitchens with fresh organic food, herbs, and flowers.

The snow buntings and winter ducks are donning breeding plumage and are quietly preparing to leave for their northern and western breeding grounds. Gulls are losing their dull winter feathers, as are goldfinches, both appearing a bit mottled as their summer feathers take over.

Not all light is beneficial. In our feverish quest to conquer darkness we light up our cities, towns, and neighborhoods at night, often all night long. That light confuses migrating birds, making them disoriented and sending them off course, even causing fatal collisions. Down south lights by the beach confuse not only sea turtles laying eggs but baby turtles hatching from eggs that head to the street instead of the sea, thinking the light from streetlights is the light of the moon.

In our own backyards moths and other insects flock to our back door or porch lights. Although they appear to like the light, it actually interrupts their natural cycles and causes a great deal of confusion and disorientation. 

Many complain about losing an hour this week, but we all know that isn’t real. We don’t lose an hour. We simply change our clocks, which are ultimately artificial measurements of immeasurable time. In other words, don’t get caught up in the buzz around the time change. Just channel your inner sparrow, crocus, or deer, and get on with your day.

Enjoy the expanding light while we have it. Like time itself, it’s a fleeting thing. I for one welcome the increasing light. Now if only we could shine our own lights on the darkness spreading in the world right now and chase it away the way the sun drives away the darkness of night.