Apparently all the recent rainfall has saturated the ground, leaving the forest floor still damp. Even the trusty pine needles won’t catch, and I am left to fend without fire. Not that fire is necessary. The evening is fine, and my meagre meal does not require heating.
The light fades, and the sun falls below the horizon, although I myself cannot see it for all the trees. With no electric light and no burning light, I have no reason to sit in darkness, so I might as well prepare for slumber.
Settled in my sleeping bag, I gaze up at the small patch of sky beyond the highest branches. The ever-present stars have not yet made their appearance, and the birds have ceased their merry music, content to let the insects begin their songs. You see, the forest is never without music. And what music! It is almost a racket to our refined ears, but it contains meaning for the insects. None seems to have any consideration for any other; each one chirps and buzzes with all its arthropodal heart, never imagining that it should hush and let the song of another be heard.
Turning my eyes from the sky in order to remove my glasses, I notice something glowing on the ground beside my makeshift pillow. What’s this? My mind takes inventory of all the natural things that give off light in the darkness: fireflies, glowworms, anglerfish—but this can be none of these. Indeed, it is not animate, for when I dig around in the leaves I discover even more of the stuff hidden below: still, quiet, glowing fluorescent green for no apparent reason but that I should discover it. I pick up a piece of it, still glowing, and set it on the toe of my shoe, so that I can examine it under daylight in the morning (perhaps it is some sort of moss).
What’s that light over yonder? Oh, it’s just a firefly. And there’s another. And another. Soon they’re all around me, blinking on and off at intervals. This is part of their language, but to me these flying bits of luminescence are simply a pleasant thing to watch as I drift off to sleep. I’ve everything I could possibly need in this outdoor bedroom: the glowing moss is my nightlight, and the fireflies hovering above me are like the glow-in-the-dark plastic stars on the ceiling of my room at home—only these are moving stars, periodically gliding out of sight, but then coming back around. It is the perfect time to sleep.
Sleep? Silly human that I am! What folly to imagine that I can sleep, when the whole forest is waking up for the night! For this is when the woods become alive, when the creatures that have been snoozing all day come to make their nightly rounds. I hear a whippoorwill call for a few times, but I guess he’s decided to go somewhere else where his call will be answered. He sounded like a Tennessee whippoorwill (he’s definitely not a Texas one)—for even the birds have different accents. They say that the language of the crows also changes by geographic location, but the crows here have gone to roost. Now is the domain of the night birds.
Even though I am surrounded by the sounds of the night, the distant roar of an aeroplane and the far-off bark of a dog remind me that civilisation does indeed still exist. However, I am far enough away from it that I can pretend it’s not real.
Crunch. Crunch. Shuffle crunch. There’s something down in the hollow. Surely it’s not a person! No, it’s definitely not bipedal. It’s close to the ground, but making so much racket crunching through the leaves that it obviously isn’t worrying about being stealthy.
It’s coming closer. Will it come close enough for me to see it? It sounds like it’s coming through my camp now, but I durst not move to put on my glasses, for fear that it will flee. And glasses would be of little use in the darkness, after all. It’s gone now, a passing wanderer. Maybe it was an armadillo. The armadillos I’ve known were rather noisy when snooting around for bugs to eat, so that’s a good possibility.
The Tennessee armadillos are like me, out of place. They’ve only come this far east in recent memory, and why they decided to migrate is something that only the armadillos know. I, too, came to Tennessee on my own will. However, unlike the armoured ones, I intend to return home.
The night wears on. All is calm on the forest floor, although high above me I can hear the wind gently flowing through the branches and leaves of the canopy. Plop. Plop. Is it starting to rain? I feel no water on my face, and conclude that the sounds I hear are merely falling twigs and leaves that the breeze has shaken loose.
The fireflies are gone now. The bit of moss on my shoe glows on, but the night has grown darker. The bugs continue to serenade me, but at long last the time for sleep has arrived. As I drift away I ponder the things I’ve seen and heard, stashing them away in my mind in order to share them later on. I understand why John Denver wrote to his wife,
“You fill up my senses
Like a night in a forest”,
for it is a lovely thing to feel and hear the life that dwells in the nocturnal woods. And I think of the innumerable times I have missed this, while tucked away in my own indoor habitat. Oh, that I could enjoy it more often!
One thought to “A Night in the Forest”
Sounds like a great night! Thanks for sharing, Ben!