Aaron is walking around America. This blog exists to help him connect with people while he is away and for anyone who is interested in following him on the path. Thanks for visiting!

Thursday, May 6, 2010

The Nightland

I was never a boyscout as a child and probably never will be as an adult. I once went to an introductory boyscout meeting at the request of a friend as a guest and I found the whole thing just plain weird. I did not get the Uniforms or the little badges that I would have had to sew on by myself if I had decided (or my parents had forced me) to join. But that was not the deal breaker for me. For me, the deal breaker was the Pledge of Allegiance.

Not because I hate The Pledge or anything sinister like that. For me The Pledge had very little to do with America but was, and still is, etched in my mind as an inescapable part of every school day. A lesson to be tolerated and endured. Like D.O.L or cursive practice or spelling tests. To my little kid brain it did not make sense why, when the boy scouts were having a meeting out of school, that they would still choose so willingly to do what I clearly considered, schoolwork...

I spent the rest of that one meeting fantasizing about what I would do when I got back home. Maybe watch some non-age appropriate sitcoms with my parents. Have two double heaping bowls of Goo-Goo Cluster Ice Cream. My favorite. Or maybe I had big plans with the Atari 2600. Pitfall Harry was not going to dodge scorpions, swing from vine to vine, leap from alligator to crocodile and gather up those gold bars, silver bars and sparkling jools on his own you know...

Of course this was all approximately 24 years before I would find myself waking up in the middle of the night, alone, soaking wet, in badly pitched tent, trespassing on someone elses private property, surrounded by pitch black on all sides at 1:30 in the A.M., bladder about to burst from needing to take a leak for the last half hour, wondering,"What the fuck am I doing here?"


I was so pleased to not be walking. For that first half hour I simply sat on the ground, my sweat soaked clothes strewn about on the forest floor around me. Naked flesh cooling off in the shade of my impromptu campsite, leaning against a mound of moss and dirt that were as comfortable as any plush couch/feather mattress I had ever laid down upon.

Eventually I got out a little bit of food and had a small dinner of trail mix nuts before I decided to put some dry clothes on and get down to the complicated business of setting up my sleeping arrangements.

I just realized this, almost two days after the fact, but until the evening of this story's construction, I had never camped alone in my life. I had never set up a tent alone before in my life either. I was certainly too tired and sore to think about such mundane statistics at the time. Even with those two self evident truths starting me in the face and me ignoring them both, the assembly of the tent went surprisingly well. The biggest concern I had was when I went to lay down my three black hefty bags, you know, for the extensive extra padding they so obviously would provide and I saw that just as I was about to lay the first bag down, the destination I chose was right on top of the biggest pile of bear dung I had ever seen in my life...

Well it certainly was a night of firsts wasn't it.

I had about two hundredths of a second of pause where I almost thought about maybe entertaining the idea of possibly repacking my bag and looking for another place to set up for the evening. Then I stepped back, moved about three feet away and laid the garbage bags down on as fine a collection of moss and sticks I had seen since I last laid eyes on my Dad's front lawn.

It took me about an hour to set up the tent and sleeping bag. It was actually a little bit easier than I imagined. The trick to setting up a tent, especially if it is the first time, it to throw the tent in the burn barrel and go get a hotel room. Kidding, kidding. The trick is to give yourself at least 4 hours of rainless daylight to make up for any potential problems. Even if, no, ESPECIALLY IF, the marketing bull puckey slogans tell you that it is an easy set up. If it says that assembly is easy as 1-2-3! Or one that can be done in only 15 minutes! Be especially wary. The laughter of marketing bullshit artists can be heard on the moon as they drive their rocket and hamster propelled turdmobiles, all the way to the bank.

Once I got the tent up, it is actually a one-quarter tent but I will refer it it as simply "tent" to try and mask how sorry a sight I must have looked. I stuffed my backpack, my shoes, my plastic bags and myself inside. I zipped up the door and tried to get as comfortable as possible. It was about quarter to 8. Sundown was at least an hour away.

I am not going to lie to you. All hindsight hijnks and wisecracks aside, I was scared as hell.

Laying on the ground, a hundred sticks jamming into my back, staring up at the roof of the tent, bear turds mounded up about a yard from where my head was resting, trees squealing just like the curious Dilophasaurus from Jurassic Park, my mind tried to tap into any force it could to help get me through the night. Talking to Barbie with what little cellular phone power I had left, prayer, the power of positive thought, law of attraction, inspirational quotes, song lyrics, anything, everything I could think of. I needed help and I was asking every force of the Universe to come to my aid on this one...

Then something tapped the top of my tent.

I held perfectly still and waited. I couldn't hear anything hitting the ground or rustling the leaves outside. I thought that maybe it was a pine needle or pine cone.

Two more taps. Raindrops. I think that maybe it is just a sprinkle, a passing fancy. I hold my breath and listen.

The sound of something pitter-pattering the whole forest reaches my ears, faint, like a child's whisper. It grows louder and growlier, like a Pro Wrestlers whisper. I can hear it approaching before it gets to the tent, a demented acid jazz drummer who has fallen in love with his snare. No patterns, no rhythms. It sounds like a trickling waterfall, winding it's way through the forest like a huge wet slippery snake.

The drops start to hit the rain fly and with the light still coming through the mesh of the tent I am transported back to a long forgotten Summer Sunday evening.


Daylight shines bright through my bedroom window. It is just past seven o'clock. Even though the sun will linger around deep into the 9 o'clock hour, my brother and I have been stuffed into our beds in spite of our justifiable objections. This was before the modern era of parenting. Back when it was still okay to tell your kids no. Before it was a requirement to give them every single thing they wanted. If we had had our way, Jason and I would be up watching Ripley's Believe it or Not or Greatest American Hero or Almost Live or riding bikes or anything that does not include laying in bed grumbling about the unfairness and inhumanity of it all.

I can hear Jason storm out of his room and scream that he can hear his friends playing outside while he being tortured in his would be sleep. Mom and Dad are steadfast in their quest for time alone. He is sent back to his room, miserable and skunked once again.

I am laying face up in my bed. Listening to my brothers attempts to scratch out a couple more hours of freedom. Trying to catch little pieces of muffled dialog on the T.V. Even though I would not be able to understand the grown up angles of the program if I were watching it straight away, I still like to try.

My father has set a sprinkler outside. He has one of those old bendy sprinklers that undulate from one side to another. The best kind for running through in my opinion. He thinks he has placed it far enough to keep the water from hitting the house but he is wrong. Every ten seconds a smattering of droplets come knocking on the screen of my bedroom window, searching for a way in.

Each time the drops of water hit my window screen I get closer and closer to The Nightland. They fade and return and my muscles relax and my eyelids close. I can no longer hear the T.V. I am no longer my brothers ally in his hopeless quest. I have let go of the world and the pleasures and struggles of being a little kid. I disappear into the warm embrace of slumber.


Laying in the tent I come out of my soft reverie on the edge of a dream. I stretch and yawn and turn to get as comfortable as possible. I can feel the dampness start to seep in beneath me but I do not care. The rain massages my tent and all worries have faded away. I asked for help from all 4 corners of the Universe and it brought me an answer in the form of a rain shower.

I can live with that.


  1. Bear poop - WOW - how exciting is that. And I have to say here, my idea of moteling it every night is certainly in the catagory of STAYING SAFE DUH Don't be out there in no-where land ending up Papa Bear's oatmeal.

  2. Remember-I sleep with the window open, even on cold,cold nights, just to hear the rain fall on the trees. I love that.

    Stay warm and dry. Don't get frustrated. You are fine. I love you. Deb

  3. Why don't my comments come through?

    Just remember, I sleep with my window open on cold nights, just to hear the rain fall in the trees. It is hypnotic. Sleep well love. Deb

  4. I really liked the title "Nightland". Very appropriate description of your experience. A Stephen King short story!! And you survived to tell the tale! :) See... your adventures will only get better.

  5. When you get onto the old highway along the Gorge, I think your walk will be a little more idyllic, since the speeders will all be on the freeway (I would hope).

  6. Thank you for your words and support everyone. You rock!