It was nearing sunset and we still hadn’t made camp. Standing on a dusty hill overlooking the valley below and the mountains in the distance, the farthest of which formed a neat little indent into the orange-pink sky, with a stream of water behind us filling up our water bottles, we prepared to settle down for the night and to pick up where we left off once again on the long journey that had led us here — the Appalachian Trail. And yet we just stood there watching, waiting, wondering about that brilliant setting sun and its magnificence and beauty and all of it to finally reach its end under a forest of pine and cedar and fade until the night sky arises from its place and yet the beauty does not fade away with the falling sun at this hour of dusk as you would think; rather the stars and the moon illuminate the world. It is in that moment, I remember thinking: So this is Nature.
Because in that moment, light had faded. Not a single lamp or flashlight or fire but instead of complete darkness, the rolling mountains and valleys were bright with moonlight shining off of every surface and the stars filled the dark sky twinkling and twirling so that you realized that there were just too many stars that you had never known existed before and that they shimmered ever so slightly you could not help but think: Where was this before? How could this brilliance go unseen? It was only later that I would realize the irony in why the sky was invisible to me. The lights of civilization blocked out the lights of the natural world.
My whole life, I had been in or around cities and towns and civilization. I had been camping before but nothing like this: nothing where the car wasn’t a 5-minute walk away or the nearest Walgreens wasn’t a quarter of a mile drive, but a real camping experience where getting stranded or losing the trail meant losing the world and your only hope was to find the trail again or begin a new life as the ’Squatch. But severing that connection to the artificial lights of civilization also meant the re-connection to the night and to the deep blues and purples of the Milky Way. And so if you ever venture out into the wild, into Nature where the animals roam free and the trees reach towards the sun and the night descends and casts everything into its moon light, I have two words for you: “Look up.”
Top Photo by the author. Bottom Photo by qliebin