On the last full day in the woods, we hiked back to the beginning of the trail, knowing we would have to find a spot to sleep before dark, something preferably a half-hour before sundown, since we needed time to set up our tent. We passed wide paths, sprinkled with fallen or crooked trees on the sides, staying alert for a chance to see birds; we could hear them, but we couldn’t see them. The trail blended in with the wide forest and the undulating hills, at times going upward or downward. I wondered if sundown would be upon us soon, too lazy to check my phone, which was buried in my backpack.
I grew bored watching the trail, which had turned narrow again with lengthy trees on both sides, producing a type of tunnel vision. Sometimes one of us would trip on a cleverly hidden hole, covered by dry twigs. What followed were steep hills (though not so steep in retrospect), and since I had two sticks, I didn’t tumble down like a fat rock, considering I was carrying a heavy backpack, weighing 30 pounds. The walking sticks I found were surprisingly the right size, and sturdy enough for my weight. We walked quickly, set on finding a camping spot. We passed a decent area, but since we still have enough time, we decided to hike a little more. If we made up the distance there would be less walking the next day, which I was hoping for. Back at the tree trunk bridge I saw a flat, elevated spot just next to a small creek. The first time I walked over the tree trunk sitting above a creek with mostly pointy rocks, I thought how dangerous that people had to cross a makeshift bridge, though firmly in place, it did not give much confidence, since there was only a rope to hold onto. We settled our stuff and set up our tent on a flat area was surrounded by tall trees that didn’t overcrowd us, so we could still walk around and we had enough open space to peek at the sky. Further down there was a sandy spot, closer to the creek.
It was building up to be a cold night under the stars. Not even the canister’s fire kept us warm. There was a fire ban in De Soto National Forest because of the recent wildfires in nearby states so we couldn’t build a campfire. After much preparation my lentil soup was warm enough to eat. I could finally hide inside my sleeping bag. After dinner we walked through twigs, ducking under the trees, using our flashlights to illuminate the way. Finally we arrived at a spot where a tree trunk lay across the ground, allowing us to sit down and stare at the dark blue sky. I felt cold despite my gloves and sweater. I had lost all my winter resilience thanks to the warm days in New Orleans.
The sky was dotted with an unending number of stars. I tried to connect the dots in my mind to imagine a constellation of my own. I thought about the Pleiades or Seven Sister star cluster I had learned about recently. To the Incan and Andean people of Peru, the rising of the star cluster signaled the beginning of the Incan Year, but also the dimness of the stars hinted at the amount of rainfall in the next months following the month of June, which would let farmers know when to plant crops. When the thickness of the clouds obscured the Pleiades, it informed the farmers a dry season would follow, forcing them to wait. Scientists have correlated the weather pattern to El Niño. I wondered where Pleiades was now, during our fall season. Somehow with these observations of nature and Astronomy, I felt more grounded and lucid. Something as simple as sleeping in the woods under a tent allowed for a feeling of meaning and place.