During the day, my shady suburban street in Horsham, Pennsylvania bustles with human activity. Children play on manicured lawns and splash in backyard swimming pools. Lawnmowers chomp and weed whackers whine. Morning and evening commutes turn our neighborhood into a bustling throughway, with cars and motorcycles growling along the asphalt.
When the sun goes down, the life changes tune completely. The hustle of human activity gradually slows as parents come home and kids go to bed, until finally the last dog-walkers have strolled past and the street is quiet. Then the magic begins.
My cat, Echo, and I sit outside in the evenings in silence, blending into the darkness, and watching the night unfold around us. Her perception of the world is much more acute than mine, with my clumsy human senses. By sitting with her, by following her gaze, and by listening intently when her ears prick up, I have come to know the amazing diversity of life that exists in, on, above and around my little square of planet Earth.
We listen to Great Horned Owls hooting in the forest behind our house and, on occasion, see the majestic ghostly figures silently swooping out of the tall maple and oak trees in the moonlight. We watch toads catching insects with their elastic tongues, fireflies flashing their mating Morse code, Orb spiders spinning magnificent webs, stag beetles clumsily buzzing from tree to tree, and little brown bats swooping through the sky in acrobatic aerial displays. White-tailed deer creep quietly toward low-hanging birdfeeders. Raccoons slink around the grill, fumbling with barbecue remnants. Flying squirrels glide through the trees and Opossums forage through the carpet of fallen leaves.
Echo’s eyes and ears follow these creatures of the night, her nose even detecting the quiet, hidden fauna lurking in the trees around us. The night is theirs and we are just guests at their party. The only creatures that seem to have any knowledge of us are the ever vigilant mosquitoes. After a while I get tired of shooing the vampiric insects away, so we go inside, back to the human world with its glaring incandescence a sharp contrast to the soft twinkle of stars and fireflies.