Light and Our Natural Navigational Systems

Loggerhead Turtle

Photo: Benjamin Albiach Galan/Shutterstock

Barbara Brown Taylor in her book Learning to Walk in the Dark quotes an article by Clark Strand. “In this article Strand states: that the invention of the incandescent lightbulb changed life on earth in ways that most human beings remain largely oblivious to. That invention was the spiritual tipping point, he says. By providing us with good, cheap light, the light bulb allowed us to make advances in every area of human enterprise, convincing us that there was nothing we could not handle with just a little more light.”

“The only casualty was darkness—“a thing of little value,” Strand wrote, “an absence really, a blank space on the canvas of eternity that we could fill in as we pleased. Or so we thought.”

Taylor’s book has many intriguing insights gleaned from doing experiments that helped her to face concerns she experienced in the dark. In her book there is a chapter called, “Hampered by Brilliance,”  where Taylor describes a time when she and her husband were exploring the dunes on Cumberland Island when they came upon a loggerhead turtle.

Taylor shares what happened next:

“She (the turtle) was still alive but just barely, her shell hot to the touch from the noonday sun.  We both knew what had happened.  She had come ashore during the night to lay her eggs, and when she had finished, she had looked around for the brightest horizon to lead her back to the sea.  Mistaking the distant lights on the mainland for the sky reflected on the ocean, she went the wrong way. Judging by her tracks, she had dragged herself through the sand until her flippers were buried and she could go no farther. We found her where she had given up, half cooked by the sun but still able to turn one eye up to look at us when we bent over her.”

Taylor goes on to explain how her husband went to the ranger station while she put sand on the turtle’s shell to cool her down. With the help of the ranger the turtle was flipped onto her back and pulled by the ranger’s jeep to the lapping waves of the ocean shore.

Taylor goes on to ask, “But who will help her the next time?  The lights on the mainland would still be there—even more than this year, judging from the new strip malls we had passed on our way to the ferry.  When her eggs hatched, her babies would be subject to the same confusion as their mother.  What hope did the turtles have, with their navigational system made obsolete by humans?”

Baby Loggerhead Turtle

Photo: Alejandro Linares Garcia

This story has made me think about a few things.  Are we confusing ourselves and the ecosystems of the earth with too much light? If what humans are doing with the amount of light in their area is affecting the ecosystem of the creatures around it, how much longer will it take for too much light to begin to affect how humans are functioning? I began wondering if we are heading in the wrong direction in our lives from an unhealthy balance of rest due to busyness and the use of electronic screens in our lives.  Is the light of the number of screens available to you to use at any time of the day or night a good thing? Are we ever really able to turn off as humans, if we are electronically plugged into so much around us?

As I am typing this blog I have five screens of electronics surrounding me: A television screen, my laptop, a kindle paper white reader, a kindle fire, and an iPhone.  Are all of these screens and their brightness reducing abilities good for me in the long run?  I may think I’m saving time by not meeting people in person, because I’m staying in touch with them through texting and other social media forms. But am I really? The other night I was using the light of my cell phone to find my slippers. I find hospitality today means being able to provide charging cables and outlets for people so they will be able to recharge their electronics before they leave to do their next activity.  And do we even know the number of young people who willingly face time or leave Skype on all night long just to have their dating partner nearby?

I am obviously not against the use of all of the wonders of hand held or electronic devices. I am wondering if I am balancing the use of electronics with the rest I get and the other natural rhythms in my life. I mean if we all are sleeping next to an iPad, an iPhone, a laptop, or some android device, how are our lives being subtly changed in ways that we may not even realize? Are our natural navigational systems becoming confused?  I would venture to say if loggerhead turtles and their newly hatched babies are getting confused with what light to follow for their natural rhythms of life, then this is also true for humans and their young ones.

I think I need to get used to the quietness of the evening and a dark still room in a new way.

Photo found by clicking at the following web site: Loggerhead Turtle

Clark Strand “Turn Out the Lights” as quoted in Learning to Walk in the Dark by Barbara Brown Taylor. Harper One: Harper Collins Publishers, New York, 2014.

Second photo found by clicking at the following web site:  Baby Loggerhead Turtle Photo

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