Lately, I've been taking longer than usual walks. I feel an urgency to wear the dogs and myself out before firearm deer season starts on November 15 and, for two weeks, we're confined to house and yard during the daylight hours.
On November 15th, I’ll become a night walker, keeping my head down to avoid getting smacked in the face by an unseen branch. Sometimes, when I'm in particularly thick woods, I turn my headlamp on. But I prefer to travel at night without it. I like the mystery. Without sight, sound and smell become more acute. I pick my way along the creek by listening to the water's flow. I judge the distance I've traveled by the smell of the familiar cedar trees and swamps along the creek.
When there is some moonlight, just enough to see shapes beyond the immediate three feet in front of me, the trip becomes even more interesting as my mind becomes more engaged. The small white pine branch gently waving in the breeze becomes something else in my mind. Is it man or beast? Is it watching me? Could it be following me?
Not long after we begin our walk, the dogs move on ahead and well out of the range of my senses. They don't have the dependence on sight that hinders my night travel. Sometimes, they are led by their noses in a big circle and come back to me from behind. I stand frozen as I hear their thundering approach and it takes me a few seconds to interpret what has happened.
Unlike the day, when blue jays, nuthatches, chickadees and ravens fill the woods with sounds, night is for the owl. One will call close by and the other will return the call from a distance, both cries echoing off the steep banks of the creek.
Occasionally a tree will fall. It happens infrequently enough that it takes me a few minutes to calm myself and remember that the beaver, like the owl, are night workers.
A quivering pine branch, the rustling of leaves behind me, a falling tree, and the hooting of a couple of great horned owls are the perfect formula for a messy mind to create all kinds of mystery and peril. But there's nothing to do but go on. I'm in the middle of it now and going back will not be less difficult than moving forward.
And finally there are lights. It's the hunting camp of my friends who have been coming north for the last 40 years to hunt the woods just south of my house. Another passage into the unknown has been navigated successfully and I'm rewarded by warmth and friends. I’ll visit for awhile, rest and enjoy the campfire. Then the dogs and I will follow the two-track back to my home.
As I reach the end of that two-track and cross the open field that leads to my house, I'm awed by the beauty of that field at night. On a night with at least some moon and a slight breeze, the lichen glistens like pools of silver and the dead grasses bend to those silvery pools as though drinking nectar.
I sometimes wonder why I choose to start my walk through the woods along the creek, picking my way, when this perfectly good two-track can easily serve as a way to accomplish dog walking after dark and avoid the dangers, both real and imagined, in the dark woods. But I know the truth about myself. I love the mystery and the unknown of the woods at night. And, truth be told, the adrenaline isn't bad either. I feel so much more awake and alive when I reach that campfire. It's just two weeks in November. I’ll recover.
Get to know a place in the wilds. Get to know it well by day. Then experience it at night and get to know yourself anew.
“Mystery is at the heart of creativity. That and surprise.” ~Julia Cameron
“Uncertainty and mystery are energies of life. Don't let them scare you unduly, for they keep boredom at bay and spark creativity.” ~R. I. Fizhenry