I wrap a scarf around my neck, letting it droop over my shoulders, and put on my maroon bomber jacket. I slip on my black heeled boots and grab a pair of earphones from my inner coat pocket as I make my way out the front door. An owl hoots off in the distance as I pace down the driveway while untangling my earbud wires. It’s five o’clock, though it could be midnight for all I know. Everything has gone dark.
In the fall season, we must not only acclimatize to the colder temperatures, but we must also adapt to the falling darkness that now greets us earlier in the afternoons. This new, premature nightly atmosphere demands us to be more attentive than usual to our surroundings when venturing outside. Our sight is hindered in the dim evenings, but our bodies naturally atone for this by heightening our remaining four senses, which can significantly alter how we experience walking at night compared to a daytime stroll.
While it’s comforting to know that the body can make up for inhibited sight under shadowy conditions, I’ve still personally made a few adjustments to my late-evening walking routine; it never hurts to prepare for an excursion in the dark — no matter the season.
I’d most definitely encourage everyone to take a nighttime trek at some point during the autumn and winter season, as the event can introduce you to a new experience, and even perhaps awaken a part of the self you didn’t know was there. But before you set out to do so, consider the following tips to ensure you have a safe and pleasurable time:
- Avoid wearing dark clothing if you can help it. This is one of the more obvious tips I’m sure we’ve all heard, but it’s an important one. It’s helpful to wear brighter colors, and even better to wear reflective material, to make sure that you’re seen by others who may not know you are there. No matter what, always dress appropriately for the weather.
- Bring a flashlight with you. It’s a handy tool to have as you walk, and most phones conveniently have one built in that you can use if you don’t own a traditional flashlight.
- Speaking of phones, be sure to bring your phone with you (even if you’re not using it as a flashlight) and make sure it’s sufficiently charged.
- Although it’s fun to listen to music on a leisurely promenade, remember to be smart about it. If you’re wearing headphones, play your music loud enough to bop along to your tunes while still being able to hear any outside activity. If you play your favorite hits too loud while night walking, you’re essentially taking your sense of hearing away in addition to your compromised sense of sight. I nearly ran into someone walking their dog because I was grooving a little too hard as I took a late walk one night; not fun, and totally awkward.
- Note what kind of environment you’re traversing. Are you in a suburban neighborhood? If so, be aware of other people who also may be going for a walk. If you’re in a city, you may have more light available via streetlamps and store signs, though unexpected objects or people can still surprise you as you turn down a shadowy side street. Perhaps you’re hiking through a more wooded area; look out for large sticks, branches, or rocks underfoot that could be easily tripped on. If you’re in a rural area, it may help to map out your walk beforehand and to note any identifying landmarks along the way, as there could be long stretches of land to cross.
- On top of knowing your environment, remember to frequently look up. Many people have a tendency to focus their attention at a downwards angle when walking. Since the dim evenings can make it difficult to discern what else is around you, it’s good to hold your head up high and take a good look at your surroundings. This is especially true if you’re on your phone; in this case, you should look up more often than normal — or better yet, avoid using it at all.
- Lastly, establish a routine by sticking to one or two familiar routes. You’ll be able to know your way around like the back of your hand, even if it’s pitch black outside.
If you’d like to learn a few more useful tips for night walking, VeryWellFit lists some great strategies to follow.
Once fully prepared for some adventures during the unlit evenings, take time to tune into your available senses and note what you experience as you trod along. What can you feel as you traverse your path? On my last walk with my boyfriend, I had a compulsion to jump in a large pile of leaves nearby, which I absolutely gave into; the tickling, rough sensation of the dried leaves lingered on my neck for the rest of the outing.
Are you able to smell any specific aromas? On one trip, I passed by a house and could distinctly smell a pot of chicken soup simmering inside. It surprised me how I immediately picked up the scent, despite the distance there was between me and wherever the kitchen lay in the house’s interior, and a warm feeling subsequently began to flow through my throat as the smell enveloped my nostrils.
Although it may be harder to see at night, try to remark upon what you are able to see. For example, I was awed at the simple beauty of a network of branches silhouetted against the night sky by way of moonlight, as is shown in the below image.
As you walk at night, ask yourself: would you have noticed the same things or felt the same experiences if it were light outside? Does walking during the earlier darkening hours differ from at a later one? Where do you find yourself exploring to as you make your way? What sensations do you find yourself noticing each time, and how does they make you feel?
While you ponder and answer these questions, recognize how much more aware and open you become in these “dim” circumstances. Pay attention to what you notice, and with which sense you do so; allow yourself to contemplate and appreciate the experiences, emotions, and sensations that come. The darkness can unexpectedly be quite enlightening, and though it may be easier to hide away and shut yourself out from the night, it can be revitalizing to wander and bask under a blue-black sky.
This is what it means to be a night walker.
Julia Collucci writes big thoughts about the things she sees on her walks in both local neighborhoods and far-away places. Follow her Medium account Little Walks, Big Thoughts to read more of her articles.