Poulsbo, WA – Do you remember the Twilight Zone television series from the 1950s and 60s? Each episode was a fanciful tale of suspense with just enough realism thrown in to make it unnerving. They featured events that could only happen if the conditions were just right in a strange zone between warring worlds of light and darkness… very clever play on the natural phenomenon that occurs every single night in the sky above us.
Last week, the northern hemisphere celebrated the annual summer solstice. Here in northwestern Washington, it is a day in which we typically enjoy a whopping 16 hours of daylight and only 1 hour and thirty seven minutes of true night. The rest is known as twilight, a special light that seems to possess the properties of both light and dark. It is a fleeting changing of the guard as diurnal happenings give way to nocturnal.
Always one to love venturing outside at night, I decided to take a walk in a nearby forest area at sunset, which was at 9:12 p.m. Donning our flashlights, we took off about an hour before sunset and made our way through the fairly bright forest up to a recent clearcut area. The sky opened up above us and kept our path well lit as we enjoyed tart wild raspberries and stands of foxglove wildflowers along the way to the top.
At the strike of sunset, we watched a blazing sky of yellow orange melt away behind the trees, giving way to soft blues, pinks and gold as the first phase of twilight commenced. Known as civil twilight, it is a delightful time after the sun has set, but has only dropped a few degrees below the horizon. Light takes on an ethereal quality, coaxing crepuscular creatures to stir from their daytime slumber. During this particular period of twilight, a nighthawk appeared high overhead and entertained us with his courtship flight, which ended in a spectacular vroom as air rushed noisily through his feathers.
After just under an hour, the sun slips deeper below the horizon and the next phase of twilight begins. Nautical twilight occurs when the sun is anywhere from 6 – 12 degrees below the horizon. Visibility drops and we can almost hear the rustling of ground dwellers running for cover as hungry owls settle on their favorite hunting perches. Songbirds quiet and an uneasy kind of peacefulness envelopes the forest.
Almost 2 hours after sunset, atmospheric twilight baths the night sky with only a hint of light. The sun has dropped beyond 12 degrees below the horizon. At 18 degrees, the sky no longer radiates the sun’s rays directly. True night stakes its claim with only the reflected light of moon and planets or the light of other stars piercing the darkness.
It is time for us to call it a night and head for the light of home. We’ve walked through new zones of light and experienced a different side of our lowland forest. Our minds are full of twilight wonders…
We’ll be back.
To see the solar calendar for your area, check out timeanddate.com
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