The Aurora Borealis dances above North America during a strong solar storm. Photo by Nace Hagemann. Visit the photographer’s website at Nace Hagemann Photography.
Whistle on Whiteface Mountain ♦
A Novel by Melissa F. Kaelin
WEDNESDAY, JULY 24, 2013
Clarence pulled a headlamp over his charcoal beanie and walked out the front door of his secluded north woods cabin. He peered up into the dark, through the branches in his front yard, and surveyed the night sky for clouds. The old man quickly located the North Star. He smiled at the luminous Milky Way, which arched over his cabin, its clusters winking at the whole of northern Michigan.
Lifting his wrinkled hands to his beard, Clarence combed his index finger and thumb through curly white hair. His gear was already in the old blue pick-up – the cameras, three tripods, and a backpack full of outdoor essentials. Time was of the essence.
Satellite imagery had captured the sun firing a solar flare 48 hours ago, and early reports detected a wave of solar particles headed directly for Earth. If the forecasts were accurate, this would be a direct hit. It could make impact at any minute.
The solar winds were strong, Earth’s magnetic field was ripe, and solar plasma was headed for the poles. This could only mean one thing: Aurora Borealis.
A sighting of the Northern Lights was a sure thing tonight, and it would be for the entire northern half of the U.S. Aurora chasers across the map were hoping for a powerful blow. Under the right conditions, the lights could dance all the way down to the Mason-Dixon Line.
Clarence knew his way around Aurora. The trick was to catch ‘em while they’re hot. Watch the numbers rise. Hit the road. Then get to a prime viewing location.
He gave his blue Chevy the once-over, checking the flatbed to see he had everything he needed. Then he hoisted himself into the driver’s seat. With a penchant for birdfeeders and old cartoons, he cranked the key in the “Road Runner” and listened as the engine sputtered to life. He put it in gear and headed northwest.
With his headlights low and his eyes adjusted, Clarence could already make out signs of the Aurora in the sky. That trusty old arc glowed green on the horizon. With a little bit of luck, he could park the pick-up in time to watch her grow.
Clarence pulled onto a rough dirt road that nodded up the hill. He followed it around to the southern side of Stone Lake, and parked the truck behind a pine grove. The old man flashed his headlights in Morse code — a gesture he always gave to the north woods on the chase — and jumped out of the Road Runner.
As if meeting a long lost friend, the Northern Lights winked at him just then, beginning to glow a little brighter. Clarence unloaded the truck. He set up his camera, pocketing the remote. He adjusted the settings to a solid night-sky aperture.
Lady Aurora was flirting shamelessly with him tonight. She swayed shyly on the horizon, hinting she had a hankering to do the foxtrot or the tango.
Acknowledging her advances, Clarence shuffled his legs in an old-timey dance right behind the tripod. He hummed as he moved his feet, his crackling voice a warm serenade to the skies. Another glimmer from the lights, and Clarence turned a full circle in delight, as if someone had just twirled him at a high school prom.
It was the perfect night for a time-lapse. He switched out the fisheye lens on his camera for a wide-angle. He turned the camera full on its side, propping it up with one of his many tripods, and he aimed the lens directly at the stars overhead.
Then he waited.
Gradually, the green arc of the Aurora gave in to a rhythm of her own, forming columns of light to the east and west. The pillars expanded, and in seconds, the lights leapt into the air above him. The green color intensified, and the columns bloomed with violet, and blushed into a crimson red at the top.
Within minutes, the Aurora Borealis climbed to the center of the night sky.
Set to open and close the shutter automatically, his camera was hard at work, taking the raw images he needed for a time-lapse.
Clarence lifted his face to the stars, watching the Aurora swing directly overhead. He saw formations he had never seen, not in all his 20 years of chasing.
The most inspiring of the formations was a large corona, an Aurora directly overhead that cascaded down from the heavens in the shape of an angel. The angel moved gracefully, shining with radiant colors and touching the entire northwestern sky with its shimmering wings. The pulses of light reminded him of his own angel, a young lass who had been taken from him many years ago.
As he watched the light, Clarence felt his limbs come alive. The glow was energizing, like direct sunlight after a long spell of overcast. The rare phenomenon rendered his inquiring mind alert, his body youthful. He even believed, beneath the energy of the electromagnetic waves, his heart could be rendered whole.
He used his second camera to snap a photo of the corona. He zoomed in on the angelic form, losing himself in the majesty of the night sky. This was the light he craved. Not the artificial stuff of an unfortunate civilized society. He took off his headlamp and sat in the grass, holding the camera to his chest. Then he cocked his head back to watch the show.
Clarence knew Lady Aurora to be an elusive creature. She was extremely rare and unpredictable, especially in the lower 48.
To see a corona was even more rare. It was the Holy Grail of Aurora chasers in the mid-latitudes. That night, though, the lights shone long and bright, swaying directly overhead. The lights moved through the early hours, until the sun rose the next morning.
It was as if they had a reason to dance.
. . .
PART I. NEW YORK
SUNDAY, JULY 14, 2013
Squinting into the sunlight, I worried I was on the wrong path.
Above the Hudson River, the park was divided in two. The trails weren’t clearly marked. One direction led to the Appalachian Trail; one direction led to ruins.
“We totally misread the signs,” I said, turning to Danny.
With my dog, the two of us had been hiking up the same craggy trail for two hours. Danny knew I had a passion for photography, and he would often push me to work outside of my comfort zone. So, he had offered to show me an obscure setting in the Hudson Highlands, cliffs that towered high above the river.
“I’m sure it was this way,” Danny said.
“Great.” I gazed out at the trail behind us. The dirt path was clearly visible on the far hill, and I stared at the vanishing point, frustrated. It never failed. Even though I wasn’t looking at him, I could just feel Danny tense up. “We’re lost.”
“No, we’re not.” He spoke in a confident whisper.
“It’s your lead.” If only he was right.
The afternoon heat was sweltering. Against my better judgment, I’d worn lipstick and mascara, and make-up practically melted off my face. A woven rucksack reminiscent of the 1970s clung to my back, tribal designs visible on the shoulder bands. Life had more movement back then. Even if times were tense, everyone seemed to belong to their own cultural tribe. A Nikon D40 rested against my chest, the camera straps warm and damp on my neck. I tugged at a length of dark hair to free it from the straps, and pushed it back.
“Patience.” Danny rested his forearm on my shoulder for a second, with a fraying blue ball cap in his hand. He stood close behind me, filling my senses with his alluring scent – spicy red saffron and rosewood. “We’ve got plenty of time.”
“Are you wearing cologne?” I wiped my forehead, wrinkling my nose at a wet sensation on my skin. In this damp heat, we both had to be crazy to use any kind of product under the inevitable layers of sweat. I turned to face Danny, passing him a sideways look and an awkward smile.
My friend was a walking contradiction. He was tall and lean with a modest chest, but his muscular arms made it look like he’d just started bodybuilding. There was something effeminate about the way he acted, but his tenderness – when he let it show – was beyond compare. I raised my eyes to his, and a few loose curls fell into his face. His brown hair was wet and tousled from the hike, accentuating his dark features.
Danny placed the blue ball cap on his head, and reached down to scratch Jo behind the ears. The Australian Shepherd lifted her head in appreciation, displaying her long tongue and an open canine smile. But I wasn’t sure what to think of him. Danny was an enigma. He was fun to be around, but I couldn’t read him. We’d only known each other for about a year, yet these days, he seemed to be my closest friend.
“Just keep going, Allie,” he said. Danny never called me by my full name. Probably a sign we spent way too much time together. He was so sure of himself, I could hardly resist elbowing him off the trail, just to see him waiver for a second. Sometimes, I wondered if he was putting on an act. “I bet we’re almost there.”
“Have you been here before?” Despite his confident demeanor, Danny seemed out of his element.
“No,” he said, simply.
“How did you find out about this place?”
“I read about it in a blog and thought of you.”
“That’s really cool of you.” I was flattered. Eager to explore every corner of the world, I was always looking for new subjects to photograph. “What did you say it was called?” The Ruins of Northgate?”
“The Cornish Estate.” We hiked farther up the path. “But some people call it that. There are supposed to be large structures of metal and stone scattered on the trail.”
“Does anyone live in the mansion?”
“Not for decades.”
“So, it’s completely deserted?”
“A remnant from another time.”
“I don’t get it.” I tried to strike a casual note. “Why would anyone abandon a mansion on the Hudson River?”
“Urban legend has it, the owner met his demise at his desk in New York City. Twenty years after the place was built.” Danny looked off in the distance, furrowing one eyebrow. He glanced back at me and hastily pushed a stray curl off his face. “He just slumped over in his chair one day, and that was it.”
“From what? Working too hard?” I winked at Danny, struggling to contain an ironic laugh. My friend owned a restaurant, and he was obsessed with the place. “Doesn’t sound like anyone I know.”
“Just for that.” Danny swooped over and planted his ball cap on my head, pulling the bill down over my eyes.
“Hey!” I laughed. It was funny, and maybe a little flirtatious. I knew Danny wasn’t seeing anyone, but he also refused to take up a date. He’d been single ever since I met him. If he didn’t want to attract a girl, than why did he try so hard? Not that I hadn’t thought about him in that way. “Was the man married?”
“Yeah,” Danny said. “They died within weeks of each other.”
“That’s depressing. What happened to his wife?”
“I don’t know. The blog didn’t say.”
“Go figure.” At least he didn’t say she died of a broken heart. “Anything else I should know about this place?”
“I thought it would make for some interesting photos. There’s supposed to be a greenhouse covered in vines, an old barn, and a pool plugged with dirt.”
The vision of a dirt-filled pool transported me to a remnant of my own life. It’d been more than four years since I’d moved a thousand miles away from the dilapidated farmhouse in Newport, Wisconsin, taking up a new life in upstate New York. It wasn’t so much the farmhouse, as it was my parents who made the place inhabitable. They spent most days in silence, neglecting to cook meals, clean the house or attend any school or community functions. High school classmates joked I didn’t have parents. The few times they did emerge from the house, my parents never failed to find something demeaning to say. After years of neglect, I was desperate to get away from them.
Liberated by my college years, I’d stayed to build my life here. Moving away had always been the right thing for me, but I’d left my half-brother, Eric, to fend for himself back home. When I missed that 14-year-old boy, the regret burned a black hole in my chest. As his only sibling, it was up to me to make sure Eric made it out of high school in one piece. I hoped my visits, few and far between, were enough to steady him.
“I think we took a wrong turn,” I said. “If we retrace our steps, maybe we can find our way back.”
“Didn’t you read the map?” Danny indicated the sign back at the trailhead. “We’re on the right track. The ruins can’t be far.”
Danny was hiking in front of me, his dark jeans accentuating a tight butt and sculpted hamstrings. He stopped abruptly, and I nearly bowled him over, after I came powering down a shelf of old volcanic rock. His body hardened when I ran into him, and I held his shoulders to steady myself, my breasts pressed against his back.
“Hey,” he said, in a deep whispery tone. But he was oblivious. “I think there’s an overlook.” Danny gestured to our left, motioning through the hardwood trees.
“Sweet.” I was genuinely excited, but I passed him a funny look.
Danny took my wrist in his hand, and searched my face. Our eyes met, and I was captivated by his blue irises – intricate in their design. He simply took Jo’s leash out of my hand, and unhooked the latch. “You know, she’s much better at this than you are.”
“Ha.” My comment wasn’t so much humor, as it was a rebuttal. Still, Danny was right. “She has an advantage. Four legs to my two.”
Long-haired and spunky, Jo had more coloring than any dog I’d ever seen. Her ice blue eyes peered out from behind a mask of black and tan, with a band of white framing her black nose. A mottled coat bounced when she walked, swaying in strands of silver, black, and tan.
Jo was a herding dog, bred to master the Australian outback. I could just see her standing on the vast terrain, perched proudly above a herd of sheep. She had the perception of a human being, listening closely and watching our mannerisms for behavioral clues. Whenever I spoke, Jo picked up my meaning instantly.
Sauntering off the leash, Jo edged through the trees, watching her step as she ventured out onto a cliff of stone. I followed her, admiring the way her paws moved across the rocks. Dogs were always so present, devoting themselves to the challenge of the moment. In a few steps, we reached the open sky.
“If only you were that nimble,” Danny teased, joining us on the cliff.
Ignoring his flirty jab, I took a moment to catch my breath.
The hills of the Hudson Highlands jutted out of the earth, their rocky inclines bristling with the full leaves of luscious trees. The blue-gray waters of the river wound through the green palisades, tracing outcroppings and islands far below. I pictured the three of us as one little spec in a 6,000-acre park preserve. The cliff where we stood pass for a small mountain.
“That’s one steep drop!” I glanced back at Danny and Jo, confirming they were both on solid ground.
“I wonder what your brother would think of this place.”
“Eric?” I took a deep breath, letting the rich oxygen fill my lungs. My heart expanded at the mention of my only brother. Half-brother or not, there was nothing half about it to me. “He would absolutely love it.”
“I’m going to snap a few photos – maybe I’ll send some to him. Wait here, while I brave the edge.”
“Sure that’s a good idea?” Danny seemed taller now, and he watched as I negotiated my footing and approached the cliff’s edge.
From an altitude of about 500 feet, I saw the Hudson winding its way through the emerald highlands. The scene was breathtaking. Somewhere upriver, a little over a hundred miles away, was Albany – the city I now called home.
“I want to get in close.”
“Just not too close.”
“But that’s what I do.” I tossed him a smile.
I snapped a few photos on my digital camera, and moved closer to the edge. A glare streaked across the camera’s LCD screen, making it difficult to preview any of the images. A trip of the settings, and there wouldn’t be much worth keeping. The sunlight was so brutal, it could wash out the definition in the frame.
Behind me, I heard Danny talking to the dog. He was probably trying to keep her close, maybe even calm himself in the process. This trip was out of character for him. Given a choice, he’d go for a silent safe haven over daring wilderness stunts. I wondered if he was trying to impress me. I’d been to the highlands before, just not this part of the park.
“Look at that!” In the corner of my eye, I glimpsed an unrivaled view. A twisted trunk hugged the rocks, the old cedar hanging off the side of the cliff, splitting the sun into eight distinct rays. I glanced back at Danny, whose expression was full of doubt. He moved cautiously toward me.
“You’ll never make it out there.”
“Hold on.” If he could see through my eyes, he wouldn’t have hesitated for a moment. “Danny, we don’t have the same perspective. I can see so much from here.”
“You’re not going to –”
“If I can just reach that branch…” I inched toward the roots, balancing my feet between two grooves, and closed the shutter on the scene. “Got it!”
A sharp pain shot into my stomach.
I cringed and fell to the earth, grasping at a weathered branch to avoid sliding off the edge of the highlands.
“Allie!” Danny darted toward the old cedar, and he wrapped his arms around my waist. He slowed my fall, steadying me on the rocks and lowering my body to the rock surface. I was disoriented, but fully conscious.
“I’m okay.” I gasped for air. My footing was solid. If it weren’t for the pain, I wouldn’t have slipped.
“What happened?” Danny gently brushed sweat-streaked hair off my cheek.
“I don’t know.” I writhed in pain. I squinted to see Jo, who stood attentively by Danny’s side.
“Are you hurt?”
Confused, I shook my head. I studied my palms, but there was only dust and dirt. I checked my waist, but there was no sign of a wound. The pain was excruciating. I’d never felt anything like it. It cut deep into my stomach and shot out into the rest of my body, like an electrical surge. Worst of all, it came with a clear sense of dread.
“Where’s Jo?” I asked.
“Right here.” Danny reached his palm over to pet her head.
“Are you –”
“I’m right here.”
Things were getting fuzzy. The sun beat down on the bluffs, and I waited out the worst of the pain, still buoyed by his arms. It was so bright, I wondered if the sun was emitting more light than usual. It didn’t seem like such a thing was possible, but if it were, it might explain the amplified scorch of the summer rays.
I squinted to see Danny’s face. “It’s hot,” I said, my mouth dry.
“Are you dehydrated?” Danny didn’t wait for an answer. He eased the rucksack off my shoulders, working around my body so I would remain still. He loosened the straps and reached inside, fetching water bottles for us.
“There’s a bowl for Jo.” When he found it, I took a drink.
“I’ll get her some water,” Danny said. “First, we’ve got to come back from the edge.” He tucked a water bottle under one arm and me under the other, leading me back onto the flat stone surface. “Lean back against this tree.”
I followed his advice, resting on the rock surface. He grabbed a collapsible fabric bowl from my pack and poured the water. Jo lapped it up, dropping face-first into the bowl and shoving her paws out behind her. Her legs stretched out beside me in total submission to gravity. The sight made me laugh.
“You okay?” Danny asked.
I nodded. I still didn’t know what happened, but I concealed the pain. On this hike with Danny, I didn’t want to come off as weak. He only wanted to know I was safe, and I was. Besides, he had a tendency to fret over things he couldn’t control.
“Rest here for a minute.” Danny set the rucksack down beside me. “I’m going to get a look at the trail.” Danny moved back toward the trees, maybe looking for a marker or signs of a trailhead.
Jo panted heavily, her mouth dripping, letting me pet the white spot on the top of her head. It was called a Bentley Mark – a distinctive feature bred into Australian dogs.
The pain slowly began to subside. I didn’t know the first thing about anatomy. Whether something happened in my intestine, my liver or my appendix, I could only guess. After it set in, the pain felt closer to my heart. Heart attacks in women could have not-so-obvious symptoms. This I knew. But then again, so could stress. It wasn’t like we were within easy distance of finding a doctor, anyway.
Small beans. I stood up, stretched my legs, and slung the rucksack over my shoulders. Although I’d seen Bannerman Castle, the collapsed structure across the river on Pollepel Island, I had no idea where to find the ruins. At this rate, it might take longer to hike to the car.
The sun sank low on the horizon. The wind picked up. It sent a chill down my skin as sweat evaporated from my neck.
“We should head back,” Danny said, reappearing on the cliff. “This is a lost cause.”
“Why? You’re not ready to give up, are you?”
Danny looked at me, furrowing his brow. But he turned, and I followed him onto the trail.
On the way down, we passed the places where the trail split in two. Many of the divergent trails were unmarked, and one of them must have led us astray. I still wanted to see the ruins, but I was starting to get nervous. Even though the pain faded, the dread was something I couldn’t shake. Something was terribly wrong. Intuitively, I knew it to be true.
“Watch yerself,” a man said loudly. His voice carried through the trees, as we turned a corner in the path.
A low growl sounded from Jo’s throat, which was out of character for her. The stocky man appeared in front of me, bearing a round face with pockmarks. His pants were torn at the ankles – the seams falling apart – and his forehead was smudged with dirt.
“Wait a minute.” Danny took a stance at my side.
“That’s quite a pack,” I said.
“Y’all will need one just like it, if you hike the Smokies.”
“What’s the antenna for?”
Danny elbowed me, apparently wishing I hadn’t mentioned the long antenna sticking out of the backpack.
“A solar storm’s comin’,” the man said, with a straight face. “Earth’s atmosphere is gonna’ fry tonight.”
“Well, we should get going,” Danny said. “Nice to meet you.”
“Hold on.” I was compelled to stay a minute longer. “What do you mean?”
“Didn’t you hear?” He hiked up his backpack by bouncing his shoulders. “The sun hurled a massive solar flare in our direction. If the magnetic field don’t hold up, there’ll be radio blackouts tonight. Electrical grid collapse.”
“A power outage?” Danny asked.
“That’s just the beginning,” he said. “Last time the sun launched a storm this big, the whole of Ontario lost power.”
He sounded like a conspiracy theorist. As we stood there watching him, it was all I could do not to laugh.
“Right.” I smiled, but I was losing interest. We had to get on the right path, find the ruins and finish our hike. “Could you tell us, do you know how to get to the estate ruins from here?”
“Aw, that’s easy.” He waved his arms wildly and gestured downhill. “Just take a left on that trail there. Follow her uphill to the estate. It’s a long haul, but you’ll know when you get there. Can’t miss it.”
“Hope the lights stay on for you,” he said. “Nighttime’s closing in.”
“Let’s go.” Eager to get away from the stranger, Danny led us onto the well-traveled path toward the Cornish Estate. I wasn’t sure either one of us still had our bearings.
“That was crazy,” I said, amused by the encounter.
“What was he talking about?” Danny shook his head. “A blackout? That doesn’t make any sense.”
As the sunlight dimmed, we hiked up the gradual incline. So much had happened we dropped the debate on whether to keep going, driven by sheer adrenaline. The sounds of the forest rose up around us, and my thoughts drifted to photography.
For years, I’d dreamed of starting my own studio. I wanted to take my photography to the next level. I wanted to discover a unique niche and make fine art. In my mind, I envisioned gallery walls lined with natural beauty, panoramic views of rare scenes, and close-ups on endangered wildlife. I could see myself standing by a large canvas-wrapped print, discussing camera techniques with anyone who would listen. Only, I couldn’t afford my life as it was.
If I was going to visit Eric as often as I wanted, I needed more paying gigs.
Not that this was one. Our adventure to the ruins was how I decided to spend my afternoon off. Come to think of it, I couldn’t even remember the last time I’d taken a full day for myself.
Danny and I were deep in the forest, when the tree cover finally opened up overhead. The ruins of a barn rose up out of the ground. Next to an old-fashioned silo, a stone archway stood as a single wall, with a notched window just below the pinnacle.
“We made it.”
“Strange.” Danny looked around. “I thought there’d be more.”
“Still… It’s surreal.”
Danny stood there thinking, but I was eager to look around.
With Jo beside me, I traced the edge of the building, to find out the structure had another floor. On the lower level, shallow stone walls with identical square windows formed the outer shell. They looked ancient. Around the wall, decaying machinery and farm instruments had sunken into the ground. I stood beneath the ruins, noticing crisscrossed beams that created a pattern against the sky, like open windows.
I crouched down beside Jo, rubbing her fur and admiring the ruin. Then I snapped a few photos, decreasing the aperture and using the manual tools to bring the stars into focus.
“It’s getting dark.” Danny came around the corner, hesitation in his voice. “We should get out of here.”
“You’re right.” I realized something. “I’ve never taken pictures in the dark.”
“Another time?” Danny paused. “I can’t believe we didn’t find the ruins of the estate.”
“What do you call this? It’s a ruin.”
“This can’t be it,” he said. “What I read about was a massive stone mansion with two exposed fireplaces.
“It’s not as cool as all that, but it’s my little ruin.” I offered a smile in the fading light.
“Can we go?”
“Not yet.” I wandered into the open-air structure.
Twilight transformed the shade of the sky to a deep Prussian blue. The cadence of crickets and katydids lifted into the forest outside of the stone walls. The air was so clear the stars appeared like tiny beacons, shining boldly from a shore somewhere in space. To me, there was something spiritual about standing beneath the stars. Others put their faith in organized religion, or an omniscient god, but not me. If the divine existed anywhere, it was in the forces of nature.
“It’s been so long since I’ve seen the stars,” I said. “Aren’t you amazed by the sheer number of them?”
“Sure, I guess.”
In between the crisscrossed beams, Scorpio appeared. The constellation gleamed brightly, especially for so early in the night. My mind drifted to Eric. The kid was a Scorpio through and through. He was stubborn and brave – attributes that could only help him at home.
My mother had given birth to Eric when I was 12. Her pregnancy came so late in life, she’d injured her spine. After she delivered the baby, she struggled to take care of herself short of strong medication, let alone her newborn son. She was so withdrawn, I sometimes had to press her for hours just to get a word out of her. If she spoke at all, it was usually something trivial. A menial phrase: ‘It’s trash night.’
The volley of stares and sighs between us was hard on me. I never understood what my mother wanted. She was indifferent. It must have been even harder on Eric, a child thrust into a silent world of reproachful looks. Like the remnants of stone, neither of us seemed to belong.
Stepping up to help, I raised my brother from an early age, changing his diapers and feeding him bottles. As he grew older, I taught him the alphabet and helped him learn how to talk. A few years after he was born, I went to high school, but that didn’t make any difference. I gave up time for studying, school clubs, and social calls to care for my little brother.
Over the years, Eric became my angel – the light around which my world revolved. I spent every spare moment thinking about him or planning our next adventure, even though my college choice put us nearly a thousand miles apart. I scraped up the money to visit him every four to six months, jam-packing each visit with new experiences. Only, what if it wasn’t enough?
As I turned to head back down the trail, moving along the crumbling wall in the dark, I saw a pair of eyes glowing in the brush. I looked at Danny, who stood on the other side of the ruins, likely counting the minutes until we could leave. From above, a small, winged creature darted in front of his face.
“What the–” he jolted backward, as the bat made another pass. “Okay. Time to go.”
“Come here, girl.”
Jo trotted up to me, and I quickly attached the leash to her collar, keeping her at my hip. Danny turned to survey the forest floor, jumping when a masked animal disappeared into the brush.
Tugging gently on the leash, I urged Jo to hurry along the trail. We had a decent hike ahead of us, and it seemed dark even with a flashlight. Danny and I moved down the trail at a swift pace, listening as the noises of the night grew in volume. The croaks of frogs and other amphibians rose up from the valley, and an owl crooned from somewhere above us.
Alert to the sounds of creatures on all sides, we walked for a mile or two down the trail. We hiked as fast as we could, and the electric sensation of being out at night quickened our pace.
By the time we made it back to my car, the sky had gone completely black.
. . .