In a valley behind a valley, somewhere in a wilder stretch of Niagara’s woods, I sleep. I’m in a hammock strung up between two trees, and I’m not alone. My brother is with me, on his birthday, four feet off the ground and also slung between the black walnut pillars.
How did we get here? The adventure was truly about the sleepover aspect, but it was also the two hour hike heading inwards. Into Canada’s richest forest ecosystem we trek, carrying heavy backpacks and thoughts alike. We were in a fantastic but curious mood, gabbing about the state of the world and the rapid changes happening in our hometown.
The sun is setting lower, and then the magic hour arrives. Providing the sun’s orange beams aren’t interrupted by clouds, any stretch of the Niagara’s lush forests is drop dead gorgeous in the final hour of light. As usual, the forest is already working its best wizardry, by calming the mind and unwinding our muscles properly. It just simply feels fantastic to be out there.
We look for water access, some sturdy trees, and a valley to shield sounds from the outside world. Spots like this in Niagara are hard to come by. No matter where you’re setting up camp in the world, you should always aim to leave no trace. That implies that neither a deer or fellow human should be able to tell you were hanging out there. Even if the deer did notice, they shouldn’t be bothered.
We used a tiny electrical lamp as our makeshift campfire. We cooked Stagg Chili beans and enjoyed a cold drink, which wasn’t so cold at this point. Sitting against the base of the tree, we used our backpacks as a cushion and relaxed on the forest floor. The woods were undeniably stagnant and subtropical. These summer nights in Niagara make me feel nostalgic, even amidst the sweat and grime.
What we found peculiar is that we felt like we’d had a fire, without having a fire.
There is something primally instinctive about people sitting around a light, an energy, and more historically, a fire for security and comfort. It’s amazing how in a pinch, an electric lamp served the same purpose for our overnight trip.
As we sat and laughed our butts deeper into the ground, the sounds of insects on the night shift ramped up significantly. Katydids, crickets, and buzzing beetles created a sheet of sound that seemed to slowly descend upon our hammocks from the top of the forest. It got lower, closer, and louder. We counted two mosquito bites each before hopping into our hammocks, and listened to hundreds of thousands of other insect kin sing in the night. It was easy to declare it therapeutic.
I didn’t get to sleep for the first 20 minutes, despite the healthily exhausting day. All I could do was stare up through my bug net at the black tree silhouettes, stretching across the opaque, muggy night sky. The insect calls amalgamated into one peaceful unit of sound, which eventually carried me into one of the best sleeps I’ve had in weeks.
That is, until I heard something squeal out in the night. Unsure as to what exactly it was, we certainly heard a very brief scuffle up on a hill over yonder. Something had been eaten. The sound arrived as quickly as it stopped, just seconds later. And then the forest returned to its uninterrupted hums and whistles of the insect orchestra, as if nothing happened.
This moment could be startling and unsettling, as you hear the sound of an animal being eaten with haste in the night. Especially while you hang like a human pinata in the camping hammock, whose “doorway” is from the bottom. Having said that, and to decrease the drama factor, it pays to know that nothing in Niagara considers you food.
While people eat each other alive with ideologies, elections, and opinions on the outside world, from in here, things seemed pretty normal and peaceful. Nature was once again reminding us that it simply continues to churn and charm, while life unravels in our
We hiked back to home base in the morning, reflecting on that incredible sleep and the solid laughs that echoed through the valley. It felt incredible to do something so natural and so normal, and with my brother.