There’s a time of day that is the same for me no mater where on the planet I may be. Correction, there is a time and place. The place is very important, yet it’s doesn’t matter where I am.
Twilight in the mountains.
The trail down from the Coleman Glacier on Mount Baker is becoming less obvious. The actual time of sunset is hard to pin down, as the sun dips behind a shoulder of the mountain hours before it passes the distant horizon. Exact timing is not important tonight. What is important is that I forgot my headlamp. And that’s a fortunate mistake.
I can still make out the major roots and ankle turning stones. I’m not yet to that point where I need to open my eyes wide, but it’s closing in. In my haste I almost fail to notice a very subtle deja vu. I haven’t felt like I’ve been here before (although I have been on this trail a number of times). Instead, the familiar feeling comes from the calm before night.
I stop for a moment to let it sink in. It’s that time before dark but after sundown. It’s that time when the bird are hurriedly finding their way back to nests. If I were in camp, a fire would be started about now as the chill of night finds its way through layers of clothes. It’s a calm transition, a time before and after all mixed into one. And it’s timeless in its beauty.
I have witnessed this time of day on six continents and many islands of this world. Dark from the East scratches at the coat tail of Light racing to the West. Neither stands over me, but instead it’s as if a portal lay over the land for a few fleeting minutes. That portal takes me back to other times I have been outdoors when the chase takes place. In childhood it was that moment when we couldn’t make out the football any more and risked getting clobbered in the head. It was the moment right before the streetlights flashed to life. They always gave a warning buzz as the ballast for the sodium vapor stored and amplified its charge before purging the portal and forced us into evening.
That portal extended over my first real hike in August of 1990, when Liz, Jason and I hurried down the hill from Talapus Lake, also without flashlights, before both of my friends headed off to college in different states.
It was in that portal that I watched my first in-the-wild black bear pace the opposite shore of a river in Olympic National Park as my friend Kristi asked if we should think about heading home in the advancing dark. I remember crawling under a blanket as I began to sleep alone, without a tent or fire, on the shores of Pratt Lake, wishing that the portal would pass so it would be dark and I could justify wanting sleep. 10,000′ up Mt. Rainier, the mountain and my goal still barely visible, anything seeming possible. The time walking, with a blanket over one shoulder and my arm around the one I loved, as we strolled along a deserted beach with a plan to make love just above the surf while watching the stars fill the sky. Or sitting along Ashland Lake with my daughter, just the two of us and a few dozen excited mosquitoes, and listening to the still before night overtook the forest and it came to life again. This summer with Jodi at the summit of South Sister in a make shift campsite and the roar of the camp stove silenced at last so we could watch gathering storms to the south electrify the atmosphere.
And heading back to the car, three miles away, on the side of my beloved Mt. Baker.
All these places different but all connected by that one special time of day.
Twilight in the mountains.