Originally appeared in
Earth Star Magazine June/July 2008
By Rosemary Gaddum Gordon, D.B.O., M.A.
Last full moon I was with a colleague and, as we looked up to admire the sky, she said a man once told her it was good for one’s vision to walk in the moonlight. Since she’s pretty I wondered if this was a come-on, but she told me he came from a desert culture and everyone was encouraged to walk at night.
The exchange reminded me of how many people say they have trouble seeing at night. The human eye certainly sees better during the day, but we also have the ability to see much better at night than we often do. There are ways to get the most out of what we have.
Our eyes only take seconds to adjust to light, but it takes five minutes for them to become partially dark–adapted and a full thirty minutes for them to become fully dark-adapted. Perhaps you remember being a kid playing outside on long summer evenings as the light gradually faded. You saw fine unless you ran inside to get something. When you came back out, didn’t it seem as if it was suddenly darker? We need to give our eyes time to adapt. This means that when driving or walking we want to avoid looking into headlights, flashlights or even the full moon because our eyes will light-adapt and we’ll have to wait another five minutes to regain some of our night vision.
Another way we can help ourselves see better at night is by attending to our peripheral vision. The peripheral retina is very sensitive to low light. That is why we see the faintest stars in the night sky best when we “look” to one side of them, rather than directly at them. This part of the retina is also very sensitive to movement. We often ignore what we are seeing off to the sides, but our eyes are still registering what is there. It is the mind that disregards this information. We know we can change our minds, so we can train ourselves to notice the larger field and regain our ability to see out of the corners of our eyes. At first, as we direct our attention to seeing in this way, the objects are not very recognizable, but as we practice and develop this awareness, it becomes easier to identify what we’re seeing.
During World War II, fighter pilots were stationed in Scotland. They noticed that they could see much better during their night flights after having bilberry jam, a local specialty, on their bread at tea-time. After the war this story spread and some scientists in France did much research on this little berry that grows in Northern Europe. They found that it contains particular flavinoids which increase the eyes’ ability to adapt to the dark. In the U.S. bilberry is sold in capsule form. Bilberry’s effects are most noticeable for the first four hours and it is completely non-toxic.
Take walks at night where you feel safe, with or without your lover. Open up to your peripheral field; give you eyes time to adapt and take bilberry if you want to enhance the process. Enjoy the summer nights.