Photography: Sunset from Lake Monroe

From an old journal I never posted. It was September 2009...

In the middle of the night, sleeping alone in my car next to an old fire tower deep in the Hoosier National Forest, I heard voices. Apparently, I stumbled upon the place local teenagers go to smoke weed and howl at the moon. Whenever I’d fall back asleep, I'd be woken again by a different car and a different group of kids clanging up the metal fire tower steps.

After work earlier that afternoon, I grabbed my gear and drove down to the Charles C. Deam Wilderness, just southeast of Bloomington, Indiana. I arrived late, so I slept in my car rather than look for a campsite in the dark.

Regardless of the teenage potheads, I managed to get a few hours of sleep before sunrise. By seven, I was on the trail. Drops of dew and the rain that never made it to the forest floor collected and dripped from tree leaves. Their collision with other leaves on the way down filled the forest with a constant snap, crackle, and pop. Birds were also out singing and I saw my first Pileated Woodpecker. It hammered a Sycamore Tree until he saw me then flew away yapping.

Whenever I go hiking for the weekend, I wonder why I'm not hiking every weekend. You just get stuck in a routine sometimes. Next thing you know the warm weather is nearly gone and you hate yourself.

I setup camp by Lake Monroe. When the sun started to set, I walked along the beach. I didn't plan on swimming. I didn't even have a change of clothes or a towel, but I was compelled. I slowly lingered out, maneuvering over smooth algae-covered stones. A chill crept up my body as I descended into its depths, acclimating a little bit of skin at a time. By the time the chill reached my chest, the ground was soft and sandy. I pushed off of it and floated onto my back, drifting like a log with my arms and legs splayed out.

I filled my lungs full of air, rolled over, and then plunged headfirst toward the bottom of the murky lake.  I kicked my feet a moment too early and splashed the surface. The water pressed on my ears. Utter silence. I cracked open my eyes, but I could see just as much with them closed.  I imagined the surface of the lake going still, smooth as black volcanic glass. I had disappeared, invisible. Like I never existed. There's an odd comfort in that.

I loved my time in the lake so much that I wanted to get a photo to remember it. I went back to the shore for my camera. Out of the water, my body had to acclimate all over again. When I returned, the water was like a warm bath. I carefully took some photos without getting my camera wet then headed back to camp.

I dropped a match in the kindling I had waiting for my return. A fire roared to life, cracking dry pine needles. I stood next to it until my clothes were dry then retreated to my hammock. Tonight, I'd sleep to cicadas and water lapping against the shore.

There is something life-affirming about time spent alone in nature. Who cared about all the spring and summer weekends I wasted? It no longer matters. I'm here now.

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A Backpacker's Life List by Ryan Grayson is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.