Out in the Woods by a Crackling Campfire on the Coast

I groaned as alarms blared through the cabin, jolting me from a deep, dreamless sleep. “Is it morning already,” I wondered as I sat up and looked blearily around. My cabinmates shifted drowsily around me, and I furrowed my brow in confusion until the haze of sleep lifted. The clocks read 1:00 am — it was time for the night hike.

Earlier that Saturday, 37 enthusiastic members of Maine Coast Semester had signed up in the journal to go on a hike at 1:00 am in the morning. The weather was warm compared to the past three months, and people were eager to participate in such a unique experience. We excitedly discussed the walk until it was time to go to bed, when some began to rethink their decision. What had sounded like a fun semester experience was starting to seem like intentional sleep deprivation. At least, that was what it felt like as we left our warm beds to brave the chilly spring night. But, once we were creeping out of our cabin and strolling onto the quad, it felt powerful to be awake when everyone else was asleep, as if we were nocturnal creatures exploring the foggy night.

In the end, 17 of those 37 decided not to snooze their alarms at 1:00 am. The rest of us gathered on the quad with our flashlights, some people still half asleep and barely communicative. Finally, we set off on the hike, with faculty members revealing that our destination was The Point, a fifteen-minute walk down the trail. Some talked, some sang, and some silently paced as we made our way down the path. The slim crescent moon provided a dim, luminous glow that made trees and rocks into shrouded shadows and cast our procession in ghoulish light. There was a magical feeling in the air, and everyone responded to it in their own way. Eventually, we arrived at our destination. We smelled the raging fire before we saw it and soon felt its warmth. Eric McIntyre, a Maine Coast Semester science fellow, had walked up before us to light a fire at the tip of the point overlooking the water. It was an excellent surprise! We all sat around the fire, using the log circle that had been created for the semester coffeehouse a few weeks before. In the dark night, we watched the embers drift into the canopy of pines above, seeming to fade into black specks just before they hit the trees. We looked out beyond the coast into the deep, black water, reflecting only the light of the thin, waning moon.

A few of us got up and climbed down the coast onto the rocks, where we commented on the different species of seaweed we had just learned about in Natural History class. The water lapped noisily against the rocks, and we tried to keep our footing on the slippery Ascophyllum nodosum. Someone began singing How Far I’ll Go from the movie Moana, belting, “I’ve been staring at the edge of the water ‘long as I can remember, never really knowing why…” It erupted into a full singalong, launching from tune to tune until our voices were sore and the others back at the campfire must have been shaking their heads.

We returned to the circle and silenced our giggles for a moment of quiet. I stared into the leaping flames, and I was at peace. I was sharing this amazing moment with the people I had grown to love over the past few months, out in the woods by a crackling campfire on the coast. I realized how lucky I was to experience that tranquility and so many other remarkable moments at Maine Coast Semester. I walked back to my cabin with a fresh outlook, extremely grateful for the opportunities at Chewonki and determined to take advantage of every moment for the rest of the semester.

Looking back on that night provides an example of one of the many extraordinary moments at Chewonki that make this semester like no other. Malcolm McGraw from Newton, Massachusetts describes the adventure fondly: “It was a very serene and special moment, just a really unique experience.” After the walk, slipping into bed at 2:30 am was a great feeling. I woke up the next morning a little tired, but more revitalized than I had felt in a long time. As I emerged into the world of light and morning birdsong, the night hike felt like a wonderful dream, one from which I never wanted to wake up.

Alden Powers, Easthampton High School, Easthampton, New York

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