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Outside the Circle of Light

I gathered with my fellow running Boulder Banditos for an evening jog through Teller Farms, on the East side of Boulder. The sky was overcast and slow snowfall graced the air. Open landscape showed sparse snowed trees and fields of white. Lights in the distance gave the scene a poignant reminder of families safe and warm in their houses spread across the open prairie.

We often turn on our headlamps before we start running. But the minute the circle of light appears, the landscape vanishes. The atmosphere is lost. The circle of light destroys adaptation to darkness, a 30-minute process where the eye’s rods increase their sensitivity 100,000 times.


In Alaska, far away from everyone, that circle of light creates a surrounding universe of darkness. The power artificial light carries a high price: loss of contact with the environment. Now the world stops at the periphery of the light. The shadows outside are unknowns, maybe friendly, maybe not. The urge to see more creates uncertainty and disconnection. On clear northern nights, with the lights off or with red light, which preserves night vision, the auroras shine and dance in their full glory; the milky way and the stars splash the heavens. You can see all the way to the ionosphere and beyond.

So it was intuitive for me on that Bandito evening not to turn the lights on, and to remain connected to the environment, which happened to be beautiful that evening. I was late and could see the bobbing lights of my running partners in the distance. I was enjoying seeing their lights even though I wouldn’t have enjoyed mine! They turned around just as I was getting to them, and I was suddenly confronted with a line of six bobbing headlights across the trail coming my way!

After closing one eye to keep some night adaptation, I shifted to the back and remained in the dark. After a few minutes, I was overtaking Jim and Kevin, and I shared with them why I had my light off. Must have been convincing because they turned theirs off too!

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