A couple of weeks ago, I had a fabulous hike in the Baldfaces. While the fall color was not as one might reasonable expect this time the year, the weather was just stellar. Late into September one could not ask for a clear, dry sunny day in the 80s and have the slightest expectation of getting it and yet there I was, trekking across the bare summits of ledge after ledge with unlimited views to the East and views to the West of the Carter-Moriah Range and the Presidentials behind in gorgeous summer weather. The day could not have been better.
The Baldfaces are a good distance from my home and rather than drive 2-1/2 hours each way, I took my Winnebago and spent the night before and the night after the hike in a National Forest campground slightly north of the trailhead. I like the National Forest campgrounds very much because all of the sites have a degree of privacy that you do not find in the NH State Park campgrounds or in private campgrounds.
Despite the summer like weather, night comes much earlier in late September than it does in mid-summer and by 7:30 I was watching the sliver of a waning crescent moon grab the last bent rays of sunlight from the setting sun it was chasing. By 8:00 it was dark and by 8:30 it was deep night.
The evening being warm, I was not ready to settle into the comfort of my Winnie for a read, and then sleep, so instead, I grabbed a good headlamp and headed out for a walk. With not a cloud in that night sky, the stars were just amazing. I knew that if I turned my headlamp off I would see much more and so I did and, within a few minutes, I was rewarded with one of the clearest moonless nights I have seen all year. The sky was just lit up with a hundred thousand little pinpricks of light shining through the dark blue fabric of the night sky. I walked along in awe-struck amazement of the sky above me. One never sees a night like this where there are lights of the city, but here, tucked between mountains, with absolutely no light from any nearby town, the sky was truly special.
I walked for a long time before I realized that I had never turned my headlamp back on and then a memory from long ago came flooding back to me that I had forgotten. As a boy scout, once chores were done in our campsites and everything was cleaned up, and before we would have our evening campfire, we would often go out for “night hikes”. We all carried flashlights, but turning yours on subjected you to immediate scorn from all the other boys and leaders around you. Turning on your light “ruined” the night vision for anyone who accidentally took in the light, and it would take a few minutes for one’s night vision to come back.
Without the crutch of artificial light, it was really amazing how well we boys could see the trails and the woods about us. We could navigate easily and seldom did a scout fall or trip on these hikes that were usually several miles in distance. We would often walk along ridgelines and we could clearly discern other ridges in the distance and the valleys between them.
As I walked from my campsite in the woods, memories of those night hikes past filled my head. I had forgotten how easily one can see when they just retrain their eyes to look. You see the world, as it is, without headlamps and flashlights interpreting it for us, without street lights and porch lights showing us the way, without car headlamps zooming along the country roads blinding the wildlife that cannot cry out in complaint when their night vision is “ruined”. Once, we all knew how to see in the dark, but now we have grown dependent on the electric light.
There is a lot of change in our country right now. There are things happening that could have repercussions and implications for generations yet to come. Much of what we all know has been chewed up, digested and regurgitated, strained and filtered by the politicians and the media into the messages they want us to hear or believe. Just as we are l endowed with eyes that know how to see in the dark, although they may have forgotten that they can, we are all endowed with minds that know how to think, how to interpret the world on own. We can all, if we try, recognize good from bad, right from wrong, selfish and short sighted from altruistic and forward thinking.
We all know how to see in the dark, and I would encourage every reader here to try it, but beyond that what I encourage, what I urge, is for all of us to try to remember how to see inthe light and then effect some positive and real change before we have little worth seeing at all. As for night hikes, let me know when you are around and I will gladly take you. Bring your headlamp but don’t you dare turn it on!