Night Walking

“I often think that the night is more alive and more richly colored than the day.”
Vincent Van Gogh

A rustling came from the bushes, 15 feet away. The beam of our flashlight revealed a pair of glowing eyes, peering out at us. We were just a couple of kids, down by the lake at my parents’ house. Two teenagers looking for some alone time, sitting on an old wooden picnic table in the blackness of the night. Coyotes howled and yipped in the distance. She gripped my arm hard, fear rising. It was time to retreat.

Years later, when visiting my parents, my brother and I began taking night walks up the road into the desolate back roads of the Adirondacks after everyone else went to bed. It was our alone time, to reconnect. We would walk for miles up the road, catching up on each others’ lives. There were nights the moon was so bright it was practically daylight. There were nights so black you couldn’t tell where the ground ended and the sky began, trusting your feet to tell the difference. And there were nights so clear that the sky was filled with an unimaginable density of stars, the Milky Way Galaxy appearing to be just a long narrow cloud of cosmic dust streaking across the sky.

In the darkness, our eyes, normally leading the ship, take a more backseat role, and the other senses become primed. If you let them. Fear of the unknown can be strong. But tap into all your senses, expand your awareness, allow your eyes to adjust and trust your instincts, and it can be an awakening and wonderful experience. Eyes become attuned to the ever-so-slight shading differences in the gray scale, and the brain becomes adept at processing them. This is useful if you’re trying to avoid stepping on roadkill at 1 o’clock in the morning.

All of this was the pond of wisdom I was hoping to bring my kids to drink from when I suggested we take a pitch black night walk in the university’s nature preserve behind my house.

“Can I bring a flashlight?”
“No, we don’t need flashlights.”
“But how will we see?”
“You’ll figure it out, don’t worry.”
“But I’m scared. It’s dark.”
“I’ll be right with you, don’t worry. Your eyes will adjust. You’ll see.”

Night Walk with the KidsExiting the fence in the backyard, shit got real. It was dark. Not wait a second and let me figure this out dark. It was I’m in a lead box let me out kind of dark. I laughed at the absurdity of it, trusting my instincts. I reached out my arms to feel the bushes lining the trail, which leads to the main trail, tentatively feeling forward with my feet as I knew there were several tripping hazards to get past. My ducklings followed obediently behind, clinging to my tail feathers.

Reaching the main trail that runs behind my house, we stood still for a minute. I spoke calmly to them, reassuring that their eyes would adjust. After a short while the sky could be seen through the clearing between the bushes on the sides of the trail, lighting the way. They grew excited at noticing the difference for themselves, and we were off!

A few weeks later they were begging me to take them out again. We’ve had many memorable experiences since, mostly involving college students. I get more entertainment than I should from three small children walking out of the complete darkness to surprise a group of college kids clinging to their flashlights.

The last time we were out, on a meandering trail through the dark forest, we came upon two students searching the ground with a flashlight.
“You guys ok?”
“Yeah, I just lost my phone.”
“You lost your phone? Wow. I’m sorry. Do you want help finding it?”
“No, that’s alright. It doesn’t help that I threw it.”

Yeah. To be in college again.

But do get out and experience the rich colors of the night. You won’t be disappointed.

When the title for this post came to me, this song immediately popped into my head. So there, now it can be in yours, too. You’re welcome.

In the beginning …

Hike: Chimney Mountain
Distance: ~2 miles
Elevation: 2708 ft
Ascent: 760 ft
Date: September 26, 2014

I grew up in a tiny town in the southern Adirondacks of upstate New York, called Northville.

Northville, NY
Image source

Why yes, it is pretty! My parents’ house is right about … there. I spent much of my childhood exploring and playing in the woods, but did little serious hiking.

After my life underwent reconstructive surgery by chainsaw in 2014, I was ripe to receive a new hobby from my old friend, TheĀ  Universe. In late September the Fall colors called, and I listened. First stop was to visit my parents, and my dad and I climbed Chimney Mountain near Indian Lake.

The trailhead wasn’t too difficult to find, after winding through several miles of dusty dirt roads east of Indian Lake. The parking area is at a beautiful spot with rentable cabins near a small lake. It is a private resort, so be respectful and bring a few bucks to park. [Map]

This is Zebra Supervan Jenks checking out the scene. (My kids like to name things.)Zebra Supervan at Chimney Mountain

Chimney is a pretty short easy hike at around 760 feet of climbing over 1 mile. The trail starts out mild, with a gradual climb over easy trail through beautiful forest.Trail

You do pay for the easy bit in the second half, when the trail steepens significantly. Soon enough you reach the top and are rewarded with clear views. You can see right back down to the parking area.Parking Area from Summit

Looking north, you can see why it is called Chimney.The Chimney

I decided to scramble across and attempt to climb the chimney to find even better views. It’s a fun little scramble!Looking Back

Once on the chimney itself, it is pretty exposed with a significant drop, but if you can handle heights the holds are fairly straightforward.Looking Down from the Chimney

My Dad stayed behind to capture me in the scene.Me on the Chimney

The view north was well worth the climb.North from Chimney

I wanted to soar off that chimney and dive down into and explore those gorgeous forests. I wanted to find the water sources that carved the gaps. I wanted to see the forest groves from the floor and find the conifer patches.

A seed had been planted. I began wondering about other hikes, and thinking about the High Peaks. How is it that I grew up in the Adirondacks and had never done any hiking up there, never been on top of a 4000 footer? This must be remedied!