by Marc Piane
The bite of the cold air on my cheeks woke me up. The fire had died down to just glowing embers. There was a chill in the air. Since one wall of the shelter was just a chain link fence, the cold breeze came right in. I was feeling cold and some slight pangs of hunger so I fished around in my backpack for some jerky and crackers I had brought. I sunk back into my backpack to eat and thought of the man I had met in the parking lot that had sold me the jerky.
* * * * *
The parking lot at the trail head was pretty secluded. There were no other cars in the lot. Parking lot is generous. It was really just a dirt clearing at the end of a gravel road. Very dusty. I had a guide book that gave me directions to this spot. At one end of the “parking lot” was the mouth of the trail. There was a small sign next to the trail that just said, “be aware of bears.” In this area you had to either sleep in a shelter or run your food up a tree at night.
Just then, a man came walking down the trail toward the lot. He was not tall, maybe 5’5”. I’m 6’. He was older and had an unkempt white beard. I chuckled to myself because he had exactly the look of the prototypical prospector. He was almost a cartoon character.
“Well, hello there,” he said. He had a slight southern accent and a bit of a scratchy voice.
“Hi. Pretty beautiful day today, huh?”
“Can’t beat a day on the trail. I was just getting a little stroll in before I get to my chores.” He started fishing around in the tattered canvas satchel he had at this side. From it he produced a small plastic bag with some dark brown chunks in it.
“Whatcha got there?” I said.
“Jerky. Made it myself from a deer I shot earlier this season.”
“Nice. Jerky always makes a nice treat on the trail. Have you got any extra you can sell me?”
“Sure thing. $3 and this bag is yours.” He pointed to the plastic bag.
I reached into my pocket and pulled out my wallet. I never carried much money when I backpack, but I had a few singles in my wallet.
“Here you go,” I said.
“Well, thank you kindly. Enjoy and have a nice hike. I best get home. Enough dilly-dallying.”
And with that, he headed off on foot down the dirt road.
* * * * *
As I sat there in the shelter, the nip of the cold air sent a small shiver up my spine. I decided that a nice walk might get the blood flowing a bit. I couldn’t quite see the moon from my vantage point inside the shelter, but I could tell from the glow of the brush outside that it was up and bright. I reached into a special padded pocket in my backpack and pulled out my camera. I also grabbed the small portable tripod I had brought. I love taking pictures of the moon but a tripod is almost a necessity to get clear shots. I also pulled out a shell windbreaker to put over my fleece. It was not very cold, but my guess is it was right around freezing.
I opened the chain link gate that acted as the door to the shelter and stepped out. There was some tree cover right overhead, but I could see that the moon was up and almost full. There was a little clearing just up the trail that ran along the crest of the mountain. I had been concerned about it being dark, but with the moon up and full the area was illuminated with a soft glow.
I walked up the trail a bit and the full view of the sky opened up above me. It was almost dizzying. Being from the city, even on clear nights, the sky never looked Ike this. There were more stars than the mind could comprehend and the faint shadow of the Milky Way set a backdrop for the moon that was high in the sky. I’m not sure if it was full, but it was damn near if it was not.
I started to raise the camera to my eye. All at once I was struck by the picture that was before me and stopped. The moon… the bright stars in the foreground… the glow of the Milky Way behind it… the light of the moon reflecting off the tree tops… Not even the best camera could do this magnificence justice. The only thing that could really capture this image was my memory. I lowered the camera and just gazed at the sky.
As I stood there, I once again had the feeling I had when listening to the symphony of the forest. The observer and observed as one. Of itself so.
I’m not sure how long I stood there but it wasn’t until the cold started to nip my cheeks that I was aware of myself again. For a moment, inside and outside were one. The world beyond my skin as an extension of my own body. As I became aware of the cold on my cheeks, I quickly was transported back inside my meat sack and I started to become slightly self conscious. I felt a little silly about this whole “connected to the universe” thing. I became keenly aware of the absurd; the place where reality, and my perception of reality, meet.
I let that feeling pass and started back down the trail to the shelter. Before I did, I raised the camera to my eye and took one snapshot of the sky. It might not capture the grandeur, but at least it might excite my memory when I looked at the photo.