The Moonlight on Moonshine

Camping alone is more than just an adventure. It’s an experience.

Story and photos by Shaun Kittle

Home away from home

Ash is floating in the air, like apocalypse snowflakes. The wind is picking up, and keeping the moths away. I can hear a chorus of peepers and cheepers from the nearby beaver pond, and the darkness around me is thick, and complete. Nothing is wrong out here, nothing is troublesome. For a moment, everything is as it should be.

I am sitting in a lean-to, two miles from the road and a fifteen-minute hike from the summit of Poke-O-Moonshine mountain. After spending the afternoon carrying a forty-pound backpack up a relentlessly steep hill, I am finally experiencing something I have wanted to do for several
years — I am camping alone.

The decision to spend the night in the woods without a companion came on the heels of a summer I spent hiking solo in the Adirondacks. Sometimes I found myself observing the forest, thinking about how at peace I felt and wondering why I didn’t just stay instead of returning to dreaded civilization. I knew camping would be an entirely different experience from the day hikes I enjoy so much, but I also saw it as a challenge to myself. In the wake of a restless year of nasty tribulation, I knew I had to do this. My time had come.

My first instinct upon arriving at the lean-to was to make sure I was set up for the night. There was so much to do! I laid out my sleeping bag and pad, got my cooking gear ready, and began chopping firewood. I decided to get a small fire going to prepare some coals for later, and figured it was the perfect time to eat as well. Foresight is essential to any outdoor excursion, and there are bears in these woods. Removing food from the campsite before they begin their nightly foraging is the best way to avoid attracting them.

Darkness was approaching as I finished the last of my rehydrated beef stroganoff. It was time to do some exploring, to finally see the forest at night. I grabbed my journal, headlamp, windbreaker, and water bottle, and headed up the trail. The evening was warm and the sky was practically clear, perfect conditions for being on top of a mountain.

"Pok-upine"

I found my place on the exposed rock, and began to write: “I am alone on top of Poke-O-Moonshine, wearing nothing but moonlight and wool socks. I watched the sun set tonight, and marveled in silence as its last remaining rays struck the western side of Whiteface, creating a brilliant silhouette of the mountain. The long, narrow band of Lake Champlain is now a faded streak of its former self, and the forest below the cliff I am perched upon is deep and black. The stars are magnificent. Where in the universe
am I?

The chronic headache I have suffered over the past two months is finally gone. It seems as if this little wilderness retreat has been the perfect therapy, a chance to clear my mind, and reconnect with the natural cycle that has done so much to make me who I am. In my travels today, I have had many reminders.

Walking up the path earlier this afternoon, I saw a baby wood frog, barely the size of my pinky-nail. I watched it hop among the leafy debris, delighted by its presence. As I chopped firewood, I was interrupted by the staccato drumming of a Downy woodpecker. I found the little creature clinging to the side of a birch tree, the red dab on the back of its head streaking wildly with every beat. On my way to the summit, I startled a rather fat porcupine, and chuckled as it waddled off into the bushes.”

At the end of the entry I scrawled a short poem, a summary of my thoughts.

”It is important to walk gently
To take the time to see
Life and death come naturally
There is more here than just me”

Whiteface basking in the glow of the setting sun


So now, as I relax in my lean-to, I feel that I have experienced more tonight than some will experience in a lifetime. I was afraid that camping alone would be terrifying, that the loneliness would overwhelm me, that the sounds in the forest would bring trepidation. But I was wrong. Instead, I have found a sense of understanding, not only for the nature around me, but for myself as well. The world, at times, is wrought with cruelty and bad vibrations. Sometimes, we just need to take a step back to remember who we are. Camping alone has helped me do this, and has served as a reminder that goodness exists in life itself.

The last two embers of the fire are beginning to fade. They flicker several times, like a tiny pair of omniscient eyes, before finally dozing off. I will sit here for a little while longer in the darkness, enjoying the stars and the music of the forest’s night shift, before dozing off myself. It has been a long time coming, this little adventure, and I couldn’t be happier. Tonight, I will sleep well, and tomorrow, I will awaken with a cleansed spirit.  

APN gives camping alone five stars.

 

 

What do you do to clear your head?

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