There are more spiders in Virginia, but the lights are brighter in Colorado.
Once again I'm writing about riding - this time about riding at night. And some other things too, perhaps.
In Virginia, I ride under tall, leafy trees, where it is VERY dark even on a moonlit night. Just about the only man-made light in evidence is my headlamp, which reflects lots of eyes - spiders (all over the trail), deer (all around the woods), opossum, raccoons, and of course the "mystery eyes."
Saturday night I ride near my in-laws' on South Table Mountain, west of Denver. It is very open and exposed, and on a moonlit night it would be brilliantly lighted and I wouldn't even need my headlamp. The mountain is like an oasis or island in the seething humanity of the western Denver suburbs - a few hundred acres of grasslands, shrubs, rocks, wildlife, and trails. It's a great place to ride, day or night.
I notice right away that things are different from my typical Virginia forest riding experiences. First of all, there are hardly any spiders, usually evidenced by the bright little green pinpoints of light in the trail reflected from their eyes. There are other animals, but not the number and variety I'm used to seeing at home. There are deer, rabbits, and mice (never seen a mouse during a ride before), and some curious sort of ground dove that likes to nest in the trail, then burst skyward in a flurry of wings as my front wheel comes near. This bird's eyes are bright yellow, almost golden, and one of them flies directly in front of me for a while, periodically sneaking looks at me back over its shoulder with its glowing orb.
Besides the different wildlife, I am surrounded not by dark trees and forest here, but rather by an absolute sea of cultural lighting. Stopping for a breather and a drink of water, I can see much of Jefferson County, north toward Boulder, east to Denver and beyond, and south to Green Mountain and I-70 disappearing into the Hogback notch. The western horizon is mostly dark, although I know the town of Golden itself is hidden down there.
There are long strings of lights on the freeways, little pools of lights on streets in residential neighborhoods, and huge, brightly lighted spots here and there. Without exception the brightest places are sports venues, car dealerships, and malls. Even at 10 PM, with no ball players or customers in evidence, these places lie under rows of arc lamps, wasted megawatts ruining any view of the night sky. Hmmm.
There are also fireworks, from two places near downtown Denver, and another one near Green Mountain. As my ride progresses and the clock ticks toward 10:30, they build up to furious codas of light and sound (only a faint booming and popping from my distant post), and then they fade into darkness and silence, leaving only drifting clouds of smoke to mark their previous locations.
These three things - the wildlife I encounter in the peace of my ride, the garishly and wastefully lighted commercial and athletic venues, and the loud, violent display in celebration of our national independence - give me pause. What is it about our country that is worthy of celebration - what tangible, real thing can I grasp that has meaning and value? When the "shock and awe" are over, and the clouds of smoke have drifted away, what do we have left?
Is it the ubiquitous mega-mall, the multiplex, the super-sized car dealership selling super-sized cars?
Is it the ball field where people pay to watch "professionals" play games that have their roots in mock combat?
No. I choose the animals and the birds, the calm dark of the mountain at night. I choose these things that were here in "America" long before we were, and will persist long after humanity is but a fading memory. I choose Nature and all her glory, for that is what truly makes this a great country.
Happy Birthday, America - love it or lose it.