The last time I slept alone, overnight, in the woods, was in September 2001, on an Outward Bound course that happened to also be in the Asheville area, during the week of the September 11th attacks. With my daughter at camp, I just did it again, and it felt significant to realize that that first time was half my lifetime ago. I have made a plan, fate-willing, to do another solo camping overnight in another twenty years, when I am close to sixty.
This second chunk of my life, 20–40, has been full of varied and intense experiences, including explorations of Latin America, partner dance, and guitar/songwriting, multiple-year immersions in Azerbaijan and West Africa, caregiving for a terminally ill partner, and solo parenting. I had no connection to Asheville when I first came to this region for Outward Bound, but now my daughter and I call it home. Perhaps, I am thinking, we are exactly where we need to be.
As I was setting up my tent, I heard a rustling nearby that at first had me afraid of a bear, but seemed to indicate a slightly smaller presence. I looked up and locked eyes with a coyote (or was it a wolf? I’m not sure). He was certainly surprised to see me, and I him. My instinct being for safety, I made a loud, low warning noise, at which he quickly fled, leaving me alone save for some pesky insects. In retrospect, I wish I could have observed him longer. The approach of night was calm and quiet until, as if on cue, the chorus of what I’m assuming were katydids and crickets commenced (I’m reading that cicadas generally do not call after nightfall). The surround-sound song was impressive, but also made it hard to fall asleep.
At this juncture, I’m feeling very aware of the passage of time. A solo night in the woods was a good way to reflect, experience gratitude, and set intentions for the next two decades.