Leaving the trailhead under a sherbet sky, I wondered if I’d regret not bringing a tent. Becca, Hilary, Jillian and I could have easily split the gear between the four of us, but we didn’t. Our objective wasn’t to be fast or light or maybe even comfortable, our objective was to sleep out under the stars, together. I don’t owe my love for bivvying to some minimalist solo climb, I owe it to my friends.
Adorned in headlamps, we carried backpacks single file up the eastern edge of the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest. It was dark when we found flat ground and shimmied into our bags, our private hillside slumber party. All we had was space but we lined our bags in a tight row just to be together, like we did as kids in our bedrooms with glow in the dark star stickers. Our minds wondered and our conversation wandered. I remember Jillian saying, “We are rich enough to sleep in the dirt.” We all knew what she meant, laying there with nothing between our bivy bags and our glow in the dark stars, light-years away.
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The words of Jack Kerouac whispered, “All this reminds me we live on an actual planet.” Being outside at night has a special way of pulling me out of the spin cycle of priorities and into the infinite dosey-do between the earth and moon. The important things come into better focus and somehow there’s room for all of it.
Between the four of us, home meant four different towns in three different states, yet we fell asleep here in the same place at the same time. Human beings, not human doings.
I woke often and looked out at the canopy of lights, a timekeeper. Each time, the milky band of stars had drifted. Or we had. It’s a form of insomnia I suppose; magic is hard to sleep through without a rainfly.
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The nights are remarkably short in the Methow Valley in early June. Twilight arrived before 4am. A crimson line began to climb the eastern darkness, the black turned blue, and the stars dimmed. We teetered between sleep and wake. We didn’t speak.
I don’t remember many details about the rest of the trip. We must have made coffee and we must have hiked out. I do remember Hilary jumping out of my Subaru to direct me through the maze of deeply washed out dirt on the road back to town. And I do remember thinking those stars were still up there on the other side of that bluebird day.
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Since that night in the Methow, I’ve spent many nights this way and I can tell you some things from experience: that the annual Perseids meteor shower can produce 50 meteors per hour and provides a great substitute for counting sheep on the side of Mount Adams; that sleeping on the deck and looking at the anchor light on the sailboat’s mast helps fight seasickness in Desolation Sound; that the flat spot in the rocks below Eldorado Peak that offers the best view for sunrise apparently also offers the worst smell from the nearby composting toilet; and that in this era of loneliness, togetherness is objective enough.
I don’t regret not bringing a tent.