On Friday I took Sierra for an overnight class at the nature center. "Overnight" as in "sleeping in a tent." She had been asking to sleep outside for at least half of the summer. I was hesitant because, well, I have never slept outside in a tent. It was unknown territory for me. When you know your backyard is home to raccoons and skunks, you tend to be hesitant about the whole sleep outdoors thing. Add to that all the what ifs, like what if it rains, what if she suddenly starts sleep walking, what if a stranger enters my yard and kidnaps her. You know, basic mom worries.
So when an opportunity arose to camp with our homeschooling group at Cranberry Lake, I decided to take her. And aside from the chilly overnight temperature of 45 degrees, it was fun. My first time outside, sleeping in a tent, cooking over a campfire, and night hiking with the park ranger.
For those of you who have never done it, night hiking is an adventure in itself. The point of it is to hike in the dark without the aid of flashlights so that you can truly experience the surroundings at night. We followed our park ranger in single file as he passed back vital information: "Rock." "Root here!" "Big log, step over." You get the idea. And I still stumbled over rocks and roots and there was one really squishy muddy section, but we all managed to find our way as our eyes learned to see in a different way.
In the dark, everything takes on shades of grey. You rely on your feet more, feeling for changes in the terrain. At two points, we were given the opportunity to experience a solo night hike. One was a simple straightaway, but the second was trickier, with curves in the trail. Twice during that second hike, I found myself wandering off the path, but I immediately realized it because the ground changed to a softer texture, or there were more leaves and brambles. I won't deny it was scary, but you really felt like you had accomplished something when you reached the bridge over the lake without relying on your flashlight.
Which, of course, makes me think of the decision to homeschool, or deciding to switch homeschooling styles. It's a lot like walking in the dark. The familiar becomes unknown territory, possibly even frightening. There are times when we shuffle along, afraid we might fall on our faces and look like failures. We might even feel the need to turn on a light, and that is perfectly OK, because we know we don't have to depend on it. We can shut it off again and readjust our eyes to the darkness at any time. Light is now an option, not a crutch.
And the shadows hold their own treasures, because sometimes they reveal their own special light. Light we would never have seen otherwise. Like the tiny mushrooms we found that twinkled in the dark. We also experimented and found that if you pull apart a bandage wrapper in the dark, it sparks! We end up seeing things in a completely new way.
At the end of the hike, when the nature center came in view, it seemed so much brighter after the grey gloom of our hike. I felt a wonderful sense of accomplishment and a desire to try this again sometime. It's a great feeling.
Of course, if it's cold outside, I'll be sleeping in my own bed, thank you.