If the very thought of taking a walk in the dark night fills you with dread, fear not, this miscellany of stories, by Annette Lees, is not full of ghostly tales. She has a Master of Science, in ecology and landscape conservation and writes:
“I have always loved the night, loved walking into its strange enchantment. In night, suspense, lawlessness, hazard, sensuousness, and awe are evoked simply by stepping outside. Night air is fresh and damp, alive across the skin, suffused with scents of spice and salts. Our familiar landscapes are altered, mysterious and charged with potency.”
After Dark: Walking into the nights of Aotearoa is part memoir. Stories of her childhood experiences are followed by many accounts of times spent in the company of owls, moths, singing crickets, and seabirds. I learnt so much from these stories about how nocturnal creatures have adapted to live in the night. Take moths for instance, whose stealth is in their quietness and their appearance. To most of us a moth is just an innocuous little grey insect. I had no idea that New Zealand moths number more than 1650 species, eighty-five percent of which are endemic. And how enormously diverse they are in their appearance, and their habits.
Annette Lees’ latest obsession is to head outside with a handheld bat monitor given to her as a birthday present. This enables her to hear the otherwise inaudible ultrasonic calls of the bats and allows her to discover their flight paths.
There are tales about the after dark adventures of others too, night skiers, night climbers, night divers and night surfers. Alison Davis has contributed a thrilling account of the most terrifying night of her life spent on the Garden of Eden snowfields in the Southern Alps when she and her companions found themselves in the middle of a huge weather event.
Annette Lees could have finished her book at this point, but that might have limited its appeal to those rugged individuals who share her love of the outdoors at night and naturalists. But she has also woven in Māori mythology and stories and delved deeper into our social history which makes it appealing to a much wider readership.
Among the many fascinating stories she unearthed is the extraordinary attempt which was made to train our largely unarmed home guard, in WW2 in night stealth so they could become tank hunters.
“Do not be passive,” they were instructed in their manual. “Ambush, snipe and trick enemy tank crews until you have destroyed every tank in your area. Once a tank is found it must become a point of honour not to let it escape you.” Fortunately, the enemy never arrived so their training was never put to the test!
I thoroughly enjoyed reading After Dark: Walking into the nights of Aotearoa curled up in my armchair in the evenings as I journeyed with Annette Lees into the dark, mysterious, and enchanting world outside.
I haven’t ventured out there yet but if anyone can persuade me to do it, it will be this wonderful storyteller.
Reviewer: Lyn Potter
Potton & Burton