'Twas the night before Hiking, when all through the camp Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse.
This would be the last night before your thru-hike that there would be a night that not one creature was stirring! The nights may be "quiet" out on trail, but you can guarantee that the night also has many creatures stirring. The owl may hoot you to sleep some nights, the squirrels may chirp to their friends that it is time for rest, you may hear the lone wolf howl to the moon proclaiming the end of another day, and you can guarantee that many a mouse will be stirring, maybe even sometimes on you! The wilderness is full of noises of the night, some beautiful and relaxing, and some alarming and adrenaline inducing. Yet, after a time the sounds of the night become your companion, and once they are gone off of trail there is an overwhelming sense of loss. The stir of the fox foraging for food, the yelp of the coyote looking for its mates, the mischievous chuckle of the racoon scavenging, and the grunts of a black bear curiously exploring the world. We miss them all, we do not miss the mice...
'Twas the night before hiking...
There is a special feeling that arises in us when we hear each of these animal sounds at night. After a while they became soothing instead of fearful. We want to use this article as a way to put many minds at ease, that no the bear will not attack you while you sleep (.000001 percent chance, it does still happen because they are a wild animal, but the chances are slimmer than you getting in a car wreck on the way to trail). The coyote yelps are not them coordinating how to best pounce on you while you sleep. The racoon...well the racoon may take your food, but it is not deliberately out to get you, they are just racoons that scavenge non-stop! Yes, the bats may come out at night, the forest may come alive, but instead of letting there be fear and worry in this night, let us show you the peace and comfort that can be felt.
When camping in the wilderness, sounds are a constant. Especially at night. Some of our first camping experiences, every sound would awake us and send adrenaline through our bodies. The sound of the wind through the branches was a bear climbing down the tree to investigate our camp. The sound of the crunch of leaves underneath a deer was a Deliverance scene in the making. Any sound would make our mind spin into a thousand different scenarios of something bad was about to happen. Yet, it never did. The sound would continue for a few minutes and then dissipate into the night. As we lay awake afterwards, our mind would begin to relax and realize there was no danger, only the imaginary danger that we ourselves had created.
Listen to the night, it plays a magical song!
Time has always seemed to be the answer to many a question. The more time where the noises of the night would ebb and flow, and the more time that no Boogey Man of the woods would come to meet us, the more comfortable we were sleeping in the wild. The reason that the mind creates these horror scenarios is not because they are rational, but it is our irrational part of our mind that takes over. Of course we did not actually believe there was a Boogey Man of the woods out to get us, but the irrational and deeper part of our animal brain would still start to fire and create these scary scenarios. If you know for a fact something is not real, sometimes it is not the rational thinking that will fix it, but instead the reinforcing and comforting of the irrational brain until it no longer becomes a thought, but a internal understanding and a part of you. Simply, it is time and consistency.
As we camped night after night underneath the stars, there was shift of our subconscious. We can not pinpoint the exact moment. There was no defined night or defined experience that shifted our thought, but it happened nonetheless. We at some point crossed an invisible threshold where the noises became our companions and comfort instead of our worry and fear. There was eventually a peace and soothing feeling to our companions of the woods, we were no longer an "intruder" into their realm, but we were a part of the world around us, and they recognized us as a traveler.
We have two distinct stories that define the shift in consciousness very well. Neither was the "turning" point to comfort, but both played an important role. Both of these stories come from the Appalachian Trail. It shows even on one trail system how much change there can be in your mind. The first story is when our mind was still in the fight or flight mode, where the noises of the night still sat us up like a bolt. We were camping in the snow one night, and had not properly secured our tent's rain fly. Yet, we did not know this key part of information until the morning. As the night progressed, the wind began to pick up. The noise of a creature began to circle our tent. Pacing around and around and around, sniffing and waiting for the perfect moment to surprise us with a meeting. We were convinced it was a bear. After a sleepless night, our mind and body on edge waiting for the moment of attack, we were convinced when we stepped out of the tent, that there would be a well beaten down path of footprints all around our tent. Yet, when we stuck our head out the door, only fresh unblemished snow greeted us. It was not a bear circling its next meal, but a carelessly secured tent flap that created the noise that had caused so much anxiety. We chuckled to ourselves tiredly, knowing we would not make that mistake again.
Was it a ferocious bear that had been hitting the gym?!? Or was it a tent?!? We had thought it was the extremely jacked bear, pictured just as our imagination had pictured it.
The next story also involves a bear, but this time a real bear. We were camped somewhere in New Jersey, and our camp had just all tucked themselves into their separate tents, and were reaching for the separate dreams of town food and pizza. We may have been the last ones to fall asleep, so as we were starting to drift off we heard very large noises outside. Not just footfalls but also animal grunts and noises of a massive amount of weight being shifted upon the land. We knew without a doubt it was a bear. Sticking our head out of our tent, our thoughts were confirmed as we saw a black bear exploring our campsite. Not exploring our campsite as a possible target, but just as a curious animal wondering what these giant orbs were doing in its environment. Watching this moment unfold, as you could see its curiosity flicker across its face and watch it be a part of the wilderness, not with malice nor with premeditation to eat hikers, gave us peace. It was an animal very similar to us. Curious about its surroundings, if food presented itself it would eat, but if not it would continue its journey down the trail. Very similar to a hiker, not to mention both of these animals, hiker and bear, have bushels of matted hair and usually smell quite bad. We all were simply out here, animals and hikers both (well most hikers are animals...) on our own paths that sometimes merged. We both were curious of the other. We both were interested in the other. Yet, after our curiosity was satisfied we both would move on to continue our journey. This thought led us into a very restful sleep that night, as we listened to the bear wander back into the woods to continue its journey.
Once you realize that the animals out in the wild, are just living their lives, and going about their journey, there is a peace in their sounds. What was that bird telling its friend at night? Was it telling its companion that there was a tree with especially ripe berries a few miles away? What was the coyote yipping about? Was it excited that it had found a cool water source to quench its thirst? What was the bear bumbling through the brush towards? Was it excited to find a soft bed of grass to lay down its weary head? What was the racoon digging through at night? Well we always know the answer to this question, trash, they are notorious trash bandits but also extremely cute and are just doing what is their nature to do, scavenge trash. Every sound can become a story unto itself. No longer the story of the sounds is one of destruction and intent of harm to you or your companions, but a story of life. A story of wild animals being wild and living their lives.