I didn’t know what to expect when the twelve of us piled into a Red Dragon bus at 8:30 pm on a Wednesday night. I’d been aggressively sick over the past few days, a lost-voice-throat-sore-can’t-stop-coughing type of sick I hadn’t experienced since elementary school. So I was reluctant to spend my evening out in a field somewhere, trudging under the light-polluted sky rather than tucked burrito-style into my bed.
That first inhalation of dark air when we reached Colby Field and stepped off the dark bus, however, was just as, if not more refreshing than waking from a NyQuil induced nap. It was just chilled enough to prick my skin awake, just breezed enough to nudge upright the hairs on my neck. Despite the greyscale coloration of the landscape before me, the pine trees looked sharper, the grass softer, the clouds calmer. The class was asked to stay silent, so of course, I had to cough. Even my lemon mint Ricola, though, somehow tasted sweeter.
Perhaps it was the fact that I’d just gotten glasses for my recently developed nearsightedness, but as I gazed across the field, I couldn’t help but think that I’d never really looked at the night. Once the sun set, I’d flick on my dorm room light and turn away from the window – nature had gone to sleep, I thought, and there wasn’t anything to see there. Out in Colby Field, though, I realized that the trees still murmured, the grass still quivered, the streams still shimmered – just without the warming glow of the sun overhead.
For some reason, I was filled with the same feeling I’d have every night as a child, after my parents said goodnight and switched off my bedroom light. I’d wait, the corner of whatever book I was in the middle of digging into my cheek from under the pillow where I’d stashed it, until I heard my parents settle into their bedroom. Once I heard the click of their light and saw the glow under my door disappear, I’d slide the book out and lean over to grab my flashlight from under the bed. It was cliché as hell, but I was that kid who read under the covers every night until my tired fingers couldn’t turn to the next page.
Maybe it was the sudafed and ibuprofen combination, but on that night hike I felt like I was watching the sun’s children sneaking in some stolen playtime after he’d settled his head into his cloud-filled pillows for the night. As we picked our way towards the forest on the edge of the field, I felt as if I’d been let in on one of nature’s secret rituals. Time as I knew it dissipated without the sun’s journey to mark the hours for me – I only had the slowly dwindling cough drops under my tongue to indicate that the seconds were still slipping by. After I had unwrapped and dissolved four into a memory of sweetness in my throat, we paused. Slowly, silently, we settled in a Crazy Creek circle out in those dark grey woods, rocking with the wind, our senses privileged. There, I too lost myself in the secret nighttime play of children and trees.