Night hikes

The brightest nights to be in the forest are during the winter, with the leaves down, under a full moon. On the magical moonlit nights when there is snow on the ground, you can wander the woods with hardly any visual impairment. But in the summer, when the darkness is cloaked with extra layers of foliage and humidity, the Blue Ridge night comes alive with bioluminescence.

Lightning bugs and fireflies are the most dramatic of our natural lights, but there are several other sources of glow. Foxfire is glow-in-the-dark wood, rendered visible by the mycelia of certain species of fungi. Other fungi have illuminated fruiting bodies (bioluminescent mushrooms).

One of the most subtle of all the night's glowing beings is the little dismalite (Orfelia fultoni). This critter, the larva of a fungus gnat, inhabits stream banks. They live in mossy crevices in the bank and spin a little web across its opening. Then they sit behind the web and glow with the bluest light in the animal kingdom, attracting other small insects in order to devour them.

Sunset over the black mountains