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  • Kerry D. Krauss

Dark Adaptation

I have visited exactly three caves in my life. Crystal Cave, near Kutztown, PA. This was the summer destination for people with no air conditioning and who couldn’t afford to go the Jersey Shore. McDowell’s Cave or Mark Twain Cave is outside of Hannibal, MO. Blue Spring Caverns is near Bedford, IN. and a regular trip for Camp Illiana. Each have their own personality and special features, but to be honest, once you’ve seen one cave, you’ve pretty much seen them all.

Each cave tour featured a time when the guide would turn out all the lights. For a suburban kid, the absolute dark was one part enchanting and two parts terrifying. The moment the lights went off the other senses work overtime—you could smell the pungency of the bat guano, you could hear groups far ahead and behind, you could feel the cool, damp air hanging in the space. The smells, the sounds, the sensory inputs were always there. For some reason we default to our vision and trust it far more than we ought.

The cave tours would usually allow for a minute or two of absolute darkness…leaving us stranded and flailing for something to which we could cling. In reality it takes the human eye between 30 minutes and 2 hours to completely adjust to the darkness. Remember the rods and the cones from Junior High biology or check Wikipedia, which is where I got this information. The rods allow us to see in low light. The cones allow us to see in bright light. In the dark, the cone cells are useless and vice versa with the rods in bright light.

The human eye, once adjusted to the darkness, sees between 10,000 and 1,000,000 times better than in daylight. Take that in. In the dark our eyes can see up to a million times better than in the daylight.

It seems to me that most of us have adjusted to the season of darkness. We’ve had ample opportunity to change our habits and our routines. We have introduced new practices to cope with our reality (hopefully). We have shed some things that just don’t serve us well (hopefully). I would guess that we are as adjusted as we are going to get to this set of circumstances.

What do you see better? Now that the panic has subsided and (some) of the fear has abated, what do you see more clearly?

I see communities collaborating to help each other. I stress the collaboration. I am volunteering for a group that spans civic groups, local government and fire departments, and local faith communities—we have committed to ensuring that people have access to whatever they need.

I see myself enjoying NOT worrying about the things I can’t do. I tend to worry too much about the things I didn’t get done on any given day. It is a newfound freedom to simply not worry about those things, to find fulfillment in what I did accomplish rather than lament what I did not accomplish.

I hope your eyes have adjusted—if not completely, at least partially. If you look out your window and see things as they’ve always been, maybe it is time to trust the other four senses: smell, hearing, taste, touch. I would like to add to those four, the sense I (self…it’s not selfish to make sure you are OK, the sense of Us (community), and the sense of the Other (the One who created and re-creates us, the One who deems us worthy and re-deems us daily, the One blessed us with life and blesses us with abundant life.) These senses combine to ground us in our Universe and allow us to experience these days as authentically and fully as we can.

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