Painting the night with light

Many people first truly experience the night in a tent, where every sound outside sounds bigger than it really is.

Do you ever have one of those moments when you notice something out of the corner of your eye that doesn’t look quite right, so you glance over to see what is going on? That happened to me last weekend as I set up for Audubon Lights at Audubon. There was a log floating in the pond where there isn’t usually a log. I glanced over and the log blinked before diving under the water with a huge splash.

The log was actually a large beaver that I spooked. It swam around all that night, in and out of the lit building reflected in the pond. Some people noticed it, most didn’t, but others saw muskrats and geese swimming in the ponds as they walked the trail.

I have always loved the nighttime. Well, I have loved the night since I overcame my fear of the dark as a small child. It seems that fewer and fewer people go out in the dark to see what is happening out there. That is one of the reasons I love putting the Audubon Lights show together.

Audubon Lights is, simply, a luminary lit trail that travels near the Nature Center. It passes ponds and forests, marshes and lawns. It is a great place to explore the night without fear. My job is to light the ponds and scenes in interesting ways that reflect the nature of the night.

That means changing how I look at things in the daytime. I walk the trail regularly and picture what it looks like if different parts of the trail are lit and the rest dark. Which trees will reflect the light and which trees will absorb it? Which trees are reflected in ponds? Where is there space for more interesting things to go up?

Audubon Lights takes the things we might fear outside at night and brings them to life in a fun way.

My first backpacking experiences were sleepless. Every twig cracking, every possum snuffling and every branch creaking in the wind was nerve-wracking. Without sight, those sounds magnify into frightening possibilities. One of the goals of Audubon Lights is to get people more familiar with the things that might be out there at night.

And so, hidden quietly away at the back of a pond, there is a tent, lit and reflected in the water. This is, for many of us, one of our first immersive experiences in the night, laying inside a flimsy cloth shell listening to the animals outside of it.

There are animal silhouettes on the pond as well, including some animals you might find in ponds and forests at Audubon. These range from animals you are likely to hear, like raccoons and owls, to things you are not likely to hear but likely to fear, like Bigfoot.

There is no way to bring the full array of things that you may find at night into a light show, but it’s fun to bring in some of the elements. There are mushrooms in the forest that glow in the dark on certain summer nights. I have only encountered them a time or two, but wanted to bring them into the show in a fun way. Some volunteers worked hard over the last few months to bring a patch of glowing mushrooms to life in Audubon’s backyard. Do they look exactly like the ones that glow on a log? No, but they do introduce people to the idea that mushrooms can glow.

Another thing that has fascinated me since childhood are moon shadows. I will never forget the first time I went outside on a full moon night and saw how light it was. My shadow stretched long across the yard along with the elongated shadows of trees. I can remember making shadow dogs and ducks with my hands that were all weirdly distorted by the angle of the moon. There is no way to guarantee a full moon at Audubon Lights and moon shadows, but some amazing volunteers rigged up a shadow wall that visitors can dance, pose and play behind.

Camping and campfires are some of the ways people spend time outside in the night.

The night can be a scary place of unknown sounds, but ACNC has worked hard to turn it into a playground of light to help make people comfortable in the dark. Like any good nighttime event, there is hot chocolate, snacks, a fire and entertainment at the end.

Audubon Lights runs Friday and Saturday Nights from March 22 to April 6, and Sunday, April 7 from 8:15 – 10:00 p.m. Audubon Community Nature Center builds and nurtures connections between people and nature. ACNC is located just east of Route 62 between Warren and Jamestown. The trails and outdoor facilities are open from dawn to dusk. The Nature Center is open from 10 a.m. until 4:30 p.m. daily except Sunday when it opens at 1 p.m. More information can be found online at auduboncnc.org or by calling (716) 569-2345.


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