By: Dustin Hyman
Every summer my dad shoved me and my brothers into the minivan and drove us to some piney trailhead at the base of a mountain in California. At the time, I didn’t realize the grandeur of those trips. To have an entire trout-filled lake to oneself as a young boy is beyond measure.
Last summer was my first in Louisiana—I needed to get my bearings. Like most modern explorers, I began to gather intelligence via the internet. The Google claims Kisatchie is Louisiana’s only National Forest. The highest point in this beautiful 600,000 acre arena: 410 ft.
Believe me when I tell you I’m a qualified outdoorsman. Or don’t. It doesn’t really matter. I’m qualified to write what follows because, like you, I know what it’s like to be amongst people. It’s bright. Most of us won’t admit to being afraid of the dark. But we are. We’re afraid of not being able to see our stuff…so we put lights on things. Outside and inside. Each room has a light, and so does the fridge. The microwave is well lit, and electronics glow deep into the night. The average car has 17.5 light bulbs (according to me). We put lights above streets, in trees, on barbeques and beside graves.
Life before infrastructure, at the very least, is worth our contemplation (if not our appreciation). For me, tramping in nature isn’t a means of ‘getting away from it all’. It’s a way of finding it. And I won’t romanticize my adventure. It was May. Kisatchie was hot. There were mosquitoes. My dad’s boots gave me blisters. But at night, sitting beside a campfire, watching fireflies blink in and out of existence, liberally smearing my wedge of brie on everything and chasing it all down with dark chocolate and red wine…life was really nice.
If you step into the natural world, and I mean a truly wild place, you should feel better. It’s science: Vitamin-D, fresh air, beautiful landscapes, flora and fauna and blah blah blah. But what really makes nature special: the absence of our stuff and the light we’ve deemed necessary to always see it. Some of our earliest ancestors (Homo erectus) walked the earth about 2 million years ago. Edison gave us the light bulb in 1879. Do you think, perhaps, we’ve been conditioned to appreciate the night as it was before artificial light began to characterize modern society?
The Kisatchie National Forest was beautiful during the day and wonderful at night. I saw wild pigs and colorful birds. And even though 400 feet of elevation is pathetic when compared to the Sierra Nevada of my childhood, when the surrounding land is absurdly flat, 400 feet is more than enough to see beauty for miles in every direction. You don’t need fancy gear. To travel back in time and gain a little perspective, all you really need to do is drag your friends into the wilderness, kill the lights, and look up.