The Edge of Darkness

Owl SilhouetteAs I’ve mentioned before, I have always had a love for obscure words, especially those that find everyday use in the lexicon of certain specialties.

Crespuscular is one of those words.

I use it all the time, but it’s definitely not common knowledge, something that’s become increasingly obvious over the many years that I’ve been a nature interpreter. I’ll throw it out there, along with other natural history terms, like ‘nocturnal’ or ‘carnivore’. While my charges usually nod sagely in understanding at these other adjectives, ‘crespuscular’ usually elicits furrowed brows and working tongues as they try to wrap their mouths around the syllables, eyes rolled up towards their brains, as though watching it try to divine the word’s meaning.

It’s too bad, because it’s a good word. It’s also a great way to be. A crepuscular animal is one that is most active at twilight, straddling the line between night and day in the muted light of either dawn or dusk. It certainly my favourite time to be out and about, probably because I’m in such good company.

Many animals are crepuscular in their habits; the most notable of which,  for me, are the owls. Species, like the Great Gray Owl, are at their best at this hazy time of day, making use of their enormous eyes and highly-tuned hearing to pick up the slightest rustle of prey along the forest floor. Owls, however, are not the only birds that enjoy this shoulder time. Common Nighthawks and Wilson Snipe also come alive in the dusk, the former swooping and diving through the gloom, scooping up millions of flying insects that have taken to the air after the heat of the day before the cool night temperatures slows their metabolisms and forces them back to earth. Most songbirds reserve their choruses for the crepuscular hours; Olive-sided Flycatchers announcing the dawn and Hermit Thrushes heralding the dusk, their refrains rounded out by the harmonies of breeding frogs.

Most boreal mammals are also crepuscular in their habits. The dull grey winter coat of the white-tailed deer is at its most invisible in the murky hours of twilight, especially to the mostly colour-blind vision of their carnivorous predators. Bats join the nighthawks in their aerial quest for a meal and rabbits emerge from the shadows, taking advantage of the low light to grab a quick nibble before complete darkness makes it difficult to spot approaching danger.

In reality, the busiest time of day, in whatever habitat you might live, is twilight. So, whether you are an early bird, who rises before the dawn, or a night owl, like me, who takes comfort in the release of the day as the sun slips below the horizon, get outside at these tenuous moments and discover the beauty and wonder of becoming crepuscular in your habits.

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10 thoughts on “The Edge of Darkness

  1. Crepuscular. Crepuscular. Crepuscular.

    What a wonderful word. Totally new to me. Now I just have to figure out how to work it into my every day conversations. 😉

    • Thanks, Sybil. It is a good word, isn’t it? Rolls right off the tongue 🙂 I’m sure you can find a reason to work it into a conversation. For example: “I find myself becoming rather crepuscular in my patterns.” Just a thought 😉

  2. Love this post! It combines two of my favourite things – language and animals. I am decidedly crepescular in my habits, and like you, am an nightowl. Twilight is my favourite time of day. xxx Ailsa

    • Thanks, Ailsa! I’m glad you enjoyed it. I have all sorts of unusual animal-related terms, especially after getting back into teaching at the university level again, so hopefully, I’ll have a few more similar posts as time goes by. Twilight is definitely my favourite time, especially in the spring. I try and get out to the marshes then because there are so many amazing sounds to hear and the open skies are amazing. Thanks for stopping by. I hope all is well with you in the Big Apple.

  3. Hi Heather, what a great word! I remember it from Stephen King (or was it Thomas Tryon?) either way my guesstimated definition was WAY off, so thank you for straightening me out.
    And absolutely loving the eventide background with the stark angularity of Owl’s perch: gorgeous!

  4. A lovely tribute to a period of time neither night or day. The half-light thrills me while returning from long walks at the close of day, or the soft, spectral beginning when I’m splitting kindling in the garden to spark the fire. We share that time with the more mysterious creatures, a intimacy that is all the more special as our own vision fades with the light, so that we rely on hearing, and that strange and indescribable sixth sense that feels the world out there. Thanks for this marvellous tour spanning dusk and dawn!

    • Thanks, Julian. Dusk is my favourite time of day too. I love just sitting still and watching the world come awake around me. You’re right, that there’s just something so mysterious about it. Humans are largely a diurnal species, so the darkness will always hold a certain thrill of the unknown. Enjoy your spring evenings.

    • Hi Ian,
      Very nice to meet you! Thanks for stopping by. I’m a big fan of Julian’s work, so I’m pleased to hear you are too. I’m glad to know you enjoy my work. This blog is a fun outlet for my odd mix of creative passions (a Ph.D. in biology and a love of art and writing). The crepuscular hours really are magical and the source of a lot of inspiration. Can’t wait to read your take. I’m off to check it out…

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