A Nighttime Prairie Walk
A number of years ago Gordon and Jean Fader, our friends from Connecticut, came out to Wyoming to visit us for their first time ever to Laramie. I wasn't sure if they would like to try walking out on the prairie after dark, but when I asked them during dinner, they said they would be delighted to give it a try because they had never done such a thing.
There was a half moon lighting up the prairie sky along with a vast array of stars. We hopped into my old Chevy Blazer and proceeded north of town on 9th Street up over a prairie rim where the lights of Laramie spread and twinkled like stardust. But my wife Maura and I wanted to take them beyond the city lights into pure prairie skies. We knew just where to turn off the paved road onto the beginning of a three-mile circle of dirt road. I deliberately left the flashlight in the glove box of the car and opened the doors to let everyone out. I told them to follow me for about forty yards until the car no longer remained visible in the dark.
Maura said, "Look up at that stunning show of stars!" The stars and moon gave just enough light to give our friends the dim outline of a prairie landscape. But the smell of fresh June sage brush more than made up for the dimness of landscape.
Then I said, "Okay, Gordon and Jean, here's where the fun begins. We're going to follow the dirt road for a three mile circle back to the car. If you no longer feel the gravel of the road under your shoes, move your foot around in a circle until you feel the road again and try to stay on the road."
At first they kept losing the road by going off into sage brush or prairie grasses, but soon enough they felt their way back to the curving dirt road. Perhaps they had stared up at the brilliant Milky Way too much to concentrate on the feel of the ground below. Eventually all of us managed both enjoy the diorama of sky as well as to use our feet as ground sensors to stay on the ever-bending road. I told the Faders that only last summer I had gone up to the Wind River Indian Reservation to visit my Shoshone friend Rupert Weeks who had taught me how to stay on a nighttime trail without a flashlight. "Use your feet as a pair of eyes at ground level!" said Rupert.We were going to see nighttime petroglyphs lit up by the moon.
Within an hour or so we got so busy talking, we had let our feet sensors operate automatically without thinking about it. By the time we reached the car and I turned on the flashlight so all could easily get seated, Gordon remarked how a flashlight sort of cheapens the nighttime beauty of the open prairie and how glad he was that we did not use it out there where Nature rules. The lights of Laramie almost hurt our eyes.
But we came back to our home to discuss what each of us learned about modern man's over-dependency on modern conveniences and the strong need to, at least occasionally, reunite with the natural world.
Have you ever taken an evening walk in the open country?
© 2013 Richard Francis Fleck