Night Vision

Bats have nothing on this nocturnal hiker.
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Bats have nothing on this nocturnal hiker.

Once a month, the 59-year-old gallery owner waits until nightfall to begin his forays into the forests and arroyos surrounding Taos, NM. These hikes started out as a simple change of pace. "It was like guys' night out for nonbowlers," says Parks, who was joined by his friend Nelson Zink, a psychotherapist. But over time, his after-hours wanderings became an experiment in the potential of peripheral vision.

As they hiked, Parks and Zink would fix their focus in the distance and move their attention, not their eyes, to absorb what was happening nearby. Parks had a theory. Skiers and mountain bikers used a similar technique-heads up, eyes ahead-and were able to dodge "unseen" obstacles. Would a hiker's body respond the same way, reacting unconsciously to what the eyes detected on the periphery?

Parks and Zink quickly discovered that they could move smoothly through the blackest nights. "We'd automatically avoid a prickly pear cactus," says Parks, "and only realize it if we actually stopped and looked."

Parks began to see remarkable things-tiny glowworms, piezoelectric discharges that appear to be caused by the wings of birds as they take flight, bioluminescence in sagebrush. And he developed what he calls a heightened sense of awareness. "Darkness can be the most relaxing yet exhilarating experience," he says. "You feel like you belong-like you have the same powers as other creatures of the night."

To learn more about night hiking, read the booklet Parks and Zink coauthored at www.navaching.com/hawkeen/nwalk.html.