Thursday, November 2, 2017

Doing It in the Dark

Get your minds out of the gutter, people.

We spend a lot of time discussing flashlights and other forms of illumination, mainly because humans are primarily visual hunters and we don't like the dark. Predators with better night vision hunted our ancestors, so we all have some level of fear of the dark.

Our sight is one of the five senses that we use to interpret the world around us, and we have a general aversion to not being able to use it. Touch and hearing can replace a lot of the cues our eyes give us, but the experience is going to be different. Smell and taste are less useful for replacing sight, and don't provide the type of information that sight does.

Have you ever arrived at a remote campsite later than planned and had to pitch a tent in the dark? Ever tried to open and eat a MRE inside a dark tent? How about having your flashlight batteries die during an extended power outage? Maybe something as simple as trying to make it to the bathroom in the middle of the night without turning on lights that would wake others? Those with military training may have stood perimeter guard at night, facing away from any source of light. Cave explorers know the meaning of true darkness; once you get past a few right-angle turns in a cave, there is no ambient light.

All of these examples are things I've run into over the years, and they've taught me the benefits of learning how to do things without a source of light. I'm so old that when I was in the Army we still used the 1911A1 pistol and the M16A1 rifle, and I can still field-strip and reassemble either one of them blindfolded because I practiced that skill. Years of working on cars and trucks have taught me how to remove and replace nuts and bolts that I can't see (usually while cursing at the engineers who designed things that way).

Here are a few things that you might want to think about practicing doing in the dark;
  • Changing the batteries in your flashlight. Most flashlights have to have the batteries inserted in the proper directions for them to work. Dead batteries means no light to check the polarity of the batteries and how they need to be placed.
  • Lighting an oil lamp, if you use them. I make it a habit to keep a pack of matches near each oil lamp, usually on the right side because I'm right-handed. Hurricane lamps have a ridge around the bottom that makes for a convenient way to keep matches under the lamp when it is sitting on a shelf.
  • Eating. Most of us can find our mouths with our hands in the dark, but using a fork can be a bit painful if you're not careful. If in doubt, use a spoon.
  • Opening containers. Have you ever tried to open a can of food or unpack an MRE in the dark? Food packed in liquid gets messy, and without being able to see the individual components of a MRE, you are going to be guessing at the contents until you learn to tell the differences by feel. Peanut butter or cheese spread? Beef stew or chicken a la king? Some things are best saved for when you're really hungry.
  • Firearms. Being able to clean your weapons without losing any of the parts isn't as simple as it sounds when you can't see where you put them. This takes practice and it helps to have a pattern of where you place each part every time so you know where everything is. 
  • Ammunition. If you're like me and own a variety of calibers, can you tell the difference between them by feel? Loading a magazine is pretty easy, but a 9mm won't work if you try to feed it 380ACP cartridges (there's a 2mm difference in case length).
  • Lighting a fire. A friend was trying to use a sparking method to light a campfire and the sparks ruined her night vision, making it difficult to keep the sparks on the tinder where she wanted them.
  • Walking through your house, without your shins finding every piece of furniture you own. This one comes in handy when the power is out and you need to get a source of light from another room.
A good way to practice many of these skills is to try them blindfolded. That way, not only can you find a missing piece without having to stand up and potentially lose it forever, but you can also inspect your work to make sure you did it properly (like with ammunition in the proper magazines).

Practice with a handicap now, so you won't be at such a disadvantage later. 

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