Meeting the Night: The Science and Mystery of an Endangered Habitat

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Publication Number: 

Sisson, Jill. 2018. Meeting the Night: The Science and Mystery of an Endangered Habitat. Corvallis: Oregon State University. 78 p. M.A. project.


One night this past December while visiting Portland, Oregon, I had a chance to see colorful holiday lights sparkling from a parade of boats gliding on the Willamette River. Their cheery reflections blinked and mingled among the customary red, yellow, and white lights that wavered in the water from the illuminated bridges and buildings. Adding to the sense of celebration were songs of the season foregrounding the usual sounds of city trolleys, buses, trains and planes. It was a lovely and sense-rich experience. By taking some giant steps back for perspective—until we’re well above the Earth—we can witness a similar phenomenon on a grander scale: the view of our planet at night, its bright constellations of cities connected by a shimmering web of highways. This popular satellite image is a familiar one, often used for advertising human progress and connectivity. But, whether we’re witnessing a single city view or the global one, the story is the same. Wherever our cities grow and glow, the night is disappearing. This is my concern, and the focus of my writing project.

This Environmental Arts and Humanities project consists of a series of essays that advocate for the night as an essential habitat and natural darkness and silence as qualities vital to planetary well-being. When viewed as a resource, the night is extraordinary because of its spatio-temporal character, which, in turn, leads to its many crucial roles. The night serves as refuge to wildlife species, as trigger for animal and plant behaviors,
and as backdrop for animals’ nocturnal migrations. Even human health and well-being depend upon the rhythms shaped by nighttime’s darkness. Clearly, the nocturnal world matters, and there is much to lose if we allow it to vanish. To emphasize the inherent value of the night, my essays include themes such as wild spaces and species, mystery, and loss, all through the lens of the nocturnal world. And since nocturnal habitats are significantly disrupted by encroachment of noise and light pollution, I also explore in detail the significance of both of these oft-overlooked pollutants in our environment, especially in regards to their disturbance on human and animal populations.