Possumhaw: A walk in the dark



Shannon Bardwell



"A great cause of the night is lack of the sun." 


William Shakespeare, poet, playwright (1564-1616) 




The moon was at the half as I wandered around the yard with a flashlight attempting to gather in the two-year old kittens. Wilhelmina can usually be found reclining on the picnic table, but not always. Whereas Harry might be anywhere at all. If you're lucky he may be waiting on the porch and rush in as soon as the door is open. I was not lucky that night, nor most nights.  


Casting about the field, the light caught the eyes of two deer settled down for the night in the grass. Deer eyes reflect orange. The level of the deer's eyes will be about a foot or so from the ground if they are lying down, and higher if they are standing. One lone deer was limping toward the other two. It's not good for a deer, being prey, to limp. In nature it puts her at a disadvantage. I so wished I could help her but, of course, that's not possible. I carried on looking for cats, whose eyes will be low and yellow. 


Wilhelmina was not on the picnic table. I turned the flashlight toward the woods and down toward the lake. Near the greenhouse, tucked in the grass as still as a chocolate bunny, was a cottontail rabbit. His eyes shone back at me. I froze, as did the rabbit. He didn't move until I took one step forward, then he scampered toward the tree line. Oddly enough, we rarely see wild rabbits here.  


More searching and no cat sightings, when I heard a rustling in the tree. It could be a cat or maybe something else. It was a bit eerie. The yellow eyes staring back at me belonged to a raccoon. I moved along, leaving him be. 


Along the grass and in the fallen leaves, teeny-tiny green eyes shone back. Sam taught me those are spider eyes. I never noticed them before, but they are everywhere. I do try to notice spiders hanging at eye level from tree limbs or eaves of the house. I hate walking into the webs. Once, I walked into a web and after thinking I had removed it all, it was a whole day before I figured out the line suddenly appearing on the inside of my glasses was not a lined bifocal -- and the stickiness catching my eyelashes were remnants of the web.  


An article by Jean Aycock in the Mississippi Department of Wildlife, Fisheries and Parks magazine "Mississippi Outdoors" explains the night vision of nocturnal animals: 


" ... nocturnal animals have a special layer in their eye called tapetum lucidum, which is a layer of cells that is reflective and bounces the light back and forth within the eye. If you have ever seen the shine of an animal's eyes at night, you are seeing the tapetum lucidum reflecting the light of a car's headlights or a flashlight. This special layer helps the rod cells catch even more light." 


BTW, the Mississippi Museum of Natural Science in Jackson is hosting an interactive exhibit, "In the Dark," from Sept. 29 through Dec. 31, allowing one to experience the night from all over the world. Not just our own backyards.  


Email reaches Shannon Bardwell of Columbus at [email protected] 



Shannon Rule Bardwell is a Southern writer living quietly in the Prairie.


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