“...and he sailed off through night and day
and in and out of weeks
and almost over a year
to where the wild things are.”
–Maurice Sendak, “Where the Wild Things Are”
I felt it early one morning this weekend. There was just a hint of it in the air as I walked outside at the farm into the darkness of early morning to let the dogs take their morning constitutional. There was a crisp coolness that still lingered as the temperature had dipped, just barely, into the 60s.
It was a feeling that said fall is coming and, as I stood there staring at the stars and listening to the wood duck calls drifting up from the lake, my thoughts were of the smell of a warm campfire, the feel of a chilled nose sticking out of a warm sleeping bag, and the taste of the first cup of coffee after a night of sleeping under the stars.
Fall will officially be here next week with the arrival of the autumnal equinox on Tuesday, Sept. 22, and the cool morning temperatures have me longing to go camping, hiking and hunting, longing to seek adventure like Max in one of my favorite childhood books, “Where the Wild Things Are.”
My first camping experiences were the equivalent of sensory overload. For me, it’s like the difference between listening to music in your home or car versus being at a live concert. I still remember all the night sounds, like the sound of the first owl I heard while camping in a river bottom. It felt like that owl was roosted on my shoulder. It was true “surround sound” and it still raises chill bumps on my arms when I hear it now while camping or hunting.
I can still see the blue fabric of my first tent reflecting the light of the campfire as we settled in around the fire for food and for the stories, stories of what it had been like for the men when they had first camped in the bottom as boys, stories of how they didn’t have fancy tents and sleeping bags and how the stars seemed so much brighter and the woods so much wilder then.
The stories often come to mind as I gather my gear to head out on a backpacking or hunting adventure. Those tales remind me of what is most important – the experience. All too often, I think we overcomplicate things. I am certainly guilty on occasion. The stories remind me that simple is better and, while I may want (or need) certain items for comfort, like a sleeping pad and sleeping bag, I usually don’t need much of what I pack.
As I listened to the wood ducks sing this weekend and watched the sun begin to show itself over the lake, I was taken back to the trip that hooked me on backpacking. It was a summer church youth retreat held at Ridgecrest Conference Center in North Carolina. While there, I signed up for an overnight backpacking excursion as part of my list of activities for the week.
Watching the sunrise across the Blue Ridge Mountains as we broke camp that morning and began our hike back down the mountain to the conference center, I knew that I wanted more of this experience. As my legs strained under the weight of the pack coming down the mountain, my appetite was whetted for more adventures in the high country.
Fortunately, my desire to be where the wild things are has never waned. In college, the fire was fanned even more when I met a girl who loved camping and hiking as much as I did (she just didn’t know it at the time). Gena and I began our adventures hiking at the Noxubee Refuge and, soon enough, we were planning our first adventure getaway.
We wanted to camp and hike over an extended weekend and needed a spot within a reasonable driving distance that met the budget constraints of two graduate school teaching assistants. I had just gotten into mountain biking and one of my freshman English composition students from Birmingham recommended Oak Mountain State Park. We rented two tents from the student recreation center and headed out with family and friends for the weekend.
We immediately fell in love with Oak Mountain but, more importantly, we fell in love with hiking together. Earlier this year we hit the Appalachian Trail together and the promise of fall has me longing to do that again soon!
If the current forecast holds, temperatures at the farm this weekend will make it down into the 50s and while we don’t have plans to break out the tent this weekend, I can certainly see a fire pit in our future. I can’t wait to look at the stars, listen to the wood ducks, and, maybe, break out a vest or jacket and make s’mores.
Until next time, I look forward to seeing you out there, where the wild things are, in our great outdoors!
Email outdoors columnist Brad Dye at email@example.com.