The Night Stalker
That last post was a little dark, even by my standards, so…let’s go night-hiking!
Three afternoons ago. Four-thirty PM plus or minus fifteen seconds, I bust out of the playgrounds of the pointless, determined to do something useful with the remainder of my day. Air — there’s air out here! Take a deep gulp. Delicious.
There’s also a hill nearby called Banryo-san. I’ve hiked it once before — well, it hardly seems apt to call a stroll up a 300m hill a hike… Whatever, it’s an excellent idea. My life has a direction again (due south).
What I liked about this hill the first time was the persimmon orchard on the slopes as I came down out of the woods. This time I tackle it from the opposite direction, and soon leave the cars and noise and tower blocks behind as I head up through clumps of bamboo, pine trees, and some way-verdue forest colour:
A grave overlooks the ranks of winter-dormant fruit trees:
They’d just been pruned last time I was up here. No green showing yet:
Just like last time, I squint a little and imagine I’m in Portugal or somewhere Mediterranean:
I love orchards, any kind of orchards. Even dormant, the trees are beautiful, with some individuality that survived their severe haircuts:
The urban drabness recedes. A couple of months ago I found the tower blocks…”interesting”, visually speaking. Now I find them oppressive and almost fascistic:
But like a lot of things in life, they’re a lot more attractive in the dark, or from a distance, or both. Reaching the top just before dark, I’m actually sweating, and I have it all to myself:
Almost immediately, the chill. There are a couple of benches, and a grave, deposited (rather selfishly, if you ask me) in the middle of the summit. A glimpse through the trees of more towers, more sparkling fluorescence, on the far side as well. A lost city, a concrete Eldorado:
Glowing embers in the rubble:
Night. Not much light left to play with, but I persevere. Attaching the tiny, flexible GorillaPod I carry everywhere, I set up the camera atop the grave. Much too close for the flash, and any further back and I’ll lose the city lights. Best I can manage is a silhouette, I suppose…
Then I remember the headlamp. I actually have it on my head, turned off, since I’m enjoying the darkness. I keep it in my daypack for just this kind of spontaneous ramble. I wonder…
I hit the timer, jump back a few metres, and angle my head just so…
I love night-hiking, though I haven’t really done much, and thanks to the NEX I’m increasingly enjoying night photography. It’s often lauded for its low-noise/high-ISO performance, but I still try to keep it under 400, especially with the tripod or something to lean on.
These are actually ISO 200, just fantastic.
But it’s getting chilly, and I’m getting hungry. I pack up, click on the headlamp, and dangle it a few inches above ground level as I go bounding down the hill on the far side. I’m in the forest, passing countless graves. I remember the twists in the trail from last time.
It’s silent and peaceful. I imagine doing this as a child, walking past graves in the forest in the dark. How sad that this sort of thing doesn’t scare me anymore. Nothing to fear from the dead. My beam bounces over roots and stumps and grave mounds and granite headstones. Usually I have a song in my head when I walk, but I love it when I’m completely empty.
I wish I was more superstitious. I was apprehensive night-hiking in America a few times, thinking about bears or rattlesnakes. The trees are whispering but it’s just a gentle murmur, the breeze a contented sigh. My headlamp could fail and I could feel my way down — probably.
I try to relax my mind and feel the mystery. Even as a kid, trying to spook myself, it was really the mystery, the interconnectedness of things I was after, rather than the chills. Tonight I’m empty and at ease, and that’s good enough.
I reach a junction. I could go straight, the way I came up last time. Too easy. I turn right down an unknown path. It’s signposted but I don’t know what the words mean. But in this part of the world, just head down. You can’t get lost.
I leave the big trees. The Lost City shimmers and throbs. If you didn’t know better, you could think something wondrous and exciting lay ahead:
Descending through scrappy scrub, I’m temporaily blinded by the garish intensity of the local golf-practice enclosure. I hear the tap…tap of some poor wretch in there hitting little white balls towards a target mounted high on the netting. Half the hill was gouged away to fit that mess in. What a world.
But the brutal ugliness is mitigated, again, by night and neon. I snap off some shots but can’t steady the camera. Then I find a trunk, rest the lens against it and get one decent exposure. The nets glow eerily like radioactive gossamer, the lethal snare spun by some monstrous night-critter:
There’s a ghastly shriek from a big tree back up the slope, one of the most horrible cries I’ve ever heard in the outdoors. It’s worse than the ungodly possum that nearly stopped my heart while camping one time on my block of land in southern New South Wales; worse than the rabid koalas fighting above my camp on the Great Ocean Walk.
It’s repeated several times — and then there’s a response from somewhere far off in the woods. An owl, I suppose, calling a neighbour. Maybe they’re talking about me. Maybe I’m paranoid.
At last, some genuine creepiness, some real night-wildness. I resume my descent, leave the dirt, and in minutes I’m stomping over gravel, and onto something more concrete.
And that’s all the Goat wrote