Tuesday, March 17, 2009

My Crepuscular Life

My favorite times of the day are dawn and dusk, the twilight hours. I have this in common with skunks, rabbits, moose, deer, some fish, woodcock, mosquitoes, dogs, cats. We are all crepuscular--animals that are most active in the morning just before sunrise and in the half-light of evening, just after sunset. Some crepuscular animals, usually not me, are also active on moonlit nights.

Most primates, gray and red squirrels, and chipmunks are diurnal, active during the day. Bats, owls, most desert rodents, and flying squirrels are nocturnal. Bobcats often hunt by day in winter and in summer switch to crepuscular and nighttime activity.

Getting up at the crack of dawn has always been easy for me. As far back as I can remember I have been fond of twilight--the in between times. Growing up we always had a few animals-pigs, cows, sheep, geese, chickens, a rabbit. Farm animals like their food and water early and the roosters crowed before dawn. The school bus came at morning twilight. By college I had taken up wildlife biology as a career and birding as a hobby, which requires a love of early mornings to reach the study site before the dawn chorus begins. You have to be good at stumbling around in the dark. Now we have these wonderful lightweight head lamps for walking our dogs before sunrise.

Many years ago I was working on a bird study in central Panama. We were mistnetting birds in the forest understory - the nets were unfurled each morning in darkness. The first task of the day was to stay calm as the large cockroaches scurried from under the box of cereal. Out in the tropical bush we carried a flashlight as we walked the mistnet route, partly to see where we were going, but chiefly to avoid stepping on a fer-de-lance, one of those species that cause swift pain, swelling, and death if untreated. We were afraid initially, then got carefree and lazy leaving the flashlight in our pocket, as we could feel our way along the paths after a few months. Just about then our research leader snagged a fer-de-lance with a snake stick. We walked more gingerly with flashlights on for the rest of our crepuscular walks.

Our neighborhood is surpisingly crepuscular. Many have dogs that require an early morning outing. Others are forced into predawn commutes to far off jobs. Except for the sounds of commuters shuffling off to jobs, our early morning walks are quiet, free of the sounds of lawnmowers, leafblowers, and chainsaws. These days we are starting to hear woodcock twittering, an early spring dawn chorus, and crows assembling.

My internal clock follows the rhythm of sunrise and sunset. It has been a good crepuscular life so far.

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