Last week, we went on our first night hike at the OTS Las Cruces Biological Station. I had been dreading the excursion ever since the idea had been raised. This fear was founded on a singular childhood incident of nighttime forest wandering. At sixth grade camp, going on a night hike was a “fun” tradition. We wandered around the campground with no flashlights to “appreciate the deficiency of our vision in low light.” I’m pretty sure this outing was secretly intended to instill a fear of darkness into our impressionable minds so that we wouldn’t wander off during our stay. It certainly worked in my case, as I became very afraid of going outside after dusk without a flashlight and a parent, even in my own suburban backyard.
Last week’s hike was an entirely different experience. Firstly, we were actually encouraged to use flashlights, instead of prohibited. This helped calm my nerves from the get go, not least because I could see well enough to not catastrophize and assume every root and vine was a deadly snake. More important, though, was the fact that everyone on the hike was possessed by the same singular motivation: to see some really unique animals that are only accessible in the night. If daytime visitors to the garden think that it is teeming with fauna, they would be forced to re-evaluate their definition of “teeming” after seeing the biodiversity only to be discovered after dusk.
Most of the animals we saw were frogs of various species – in trees, on leaves, on pipes, in ponds. Surprisingly, some of the wild frogs were as easy to hold as the “domesticated” ones that I had owned back in elementary school. Seemingly unbothered by our interruption, they sat calmly on our palms as we posed for selfies and examined their eyes and glands, and nonchalantly returned to immobility when they were replaced on their leaves or stones. Handling the frogs immediately elicited a desire to touch our eyes and mouths, solely because we knew we couldn’t
Near the very end of our journey, we made our most anticipated find: a scorpion. Personally, I’ve always found scorpions to be pretty freaky. It seems wrong that something as small as an arachnid should be allowed to evolve venom that can kill animals with more intelligent and complex emotional lives. However, I completely forgot my reservations the moment our flashlights were turned off and we saw that the scorpions glow under a black light! For a few long moments, we paused, looking at the faintly illuminated glow-in-the-dark creature, surrounded by the ambient pulsing of the darkened but not-so-sleeping forest. Maybe nighttime isn’t so bad after all.