Klean Voices: Together in the Dark

November 22 2016

It is nighttime on the Balch Creek Trail at Portland's Audubon Sanctuary.

We're on a hike with Ian, our guide. My two little boys are the only children in our group of eight. My three year old doesn't want to hold my hand. He tells me he wants to "do it my own self," running across the wet wooden bridge, down the uneven rocky trail, too close to the steep drop-off. 

We let our eyes adjust to the dark. Nobody brought head-lamps; we're trusting our night vision. We keep our eyes on the trail, looking down into the wooded gorge. We don't look back at the buildings and their bright blinding lights. 

We walk together down to the pond. As we cross the boardwalk and stand at the water's edge, our sight gets stronger, we can see deeper into the dark doug firs and vine maples, the silvery grasses, the shining water.

It feels cozy, intimate, standing in the dark together, in this new wild place. Eight strangers. I can't see anyone's face. We barely talk. We stand together, listening. I pull the boys close.

Ian calls a barred owl and we wait. The boys have so many questions. I remind them to whisper. I crouch down with them to help them be still. I bribe them. I promise them we'll stop for ice cream on the way home if they can listen quietly.

And then the owl, a real owl!, calls back. My seven year-old's eyes go wide. Huge smile. He can barely contain himself. I can tell he wants to shout, to jump, he's thrilled but he wants ice cream, so he stands there beaming and waving his hands in excitement.

When we were in the building before the hike, I read the info – about how this owl isn't native, that it out-competes vulnerable spotted owls. About how years ago this land was logged, that this stream is paved over downstream, that the cutthroat run here is a ghost of what it used to be. There is a whole history of scars in this city landscape, this patch of urban wild.

But I also know that the look of wonder on my son's face is real. And seeing him, I feel what he feels, a mix of delight and connection. This moment is what I am thankful for, what I want to discover again and again.

And standing there in the night, I am grateful for our little group. So often we seek out wild places to get away from people, to find solitude, to escape all signs of civilization. But tonight, I feel warmed by our impromptu community in the woods, sharing this experience. 

Standing together, trying to see into the dark, we have more in common than we think.

Klean Voices Contributor Amy Kober is the Senior Director of Communications at American Rivers, as well as the mother of two little boys. She lives in Portland, Oregon.