This weekend, my husband and I headed south to Alabama, trying to outrun the rain. We looked at the map and the weather report and picked Cheaha Mountain, but ended up outside the State Park and into the Taladega Wilderness, because, well, it's free and there were not any detectable adjacent campsites.
I have to admit my expectations for this trip were modest. Alabama has a total of 3 Wilderness areas. I had two conflicting assumptions: Alabamians are not outdoorsy, meaning the park would be quite. AND, with so few destinations in the state, the park will be packed. Coming from Colorado, one of the most awesome places in the world (half of the damn state is wilderness...overwhelming beauty), I figured Alabama's offerings to be limited.
My suspended expectations served me well. The impact of the woods took some time to reach my conscious mind. We drove in, maybe a mile or two off the road into a clearing and set up camp. We agreed it would be car camping. We brought too many things and too much food. I never changed my clothes once even though I brought enough to change 3 times. I had to walk around and collect stones to make a fire pit and then collect fallen wood for the fire. My husband set up a tarp canopy in case it rained, although it never did.
To look out into dense woods didn't affect me much at first. It is winter, largely monochromatic, all some shade of orange-brown. We didn't see any critters or crawlys. There weren't even mosquitos (this is not a complaint). In the woods there is no view except the foreground. Everything behind is obscured by more trees. What surprised me was how the woods stripped me of any sense of location. And since we were so secluded, I couldn't hear anything except the wind and our own fire. I couldn't tell you where the road was or look out over the hills or tell you what was 30 yards to the north. If I had to guess... more woods. And I suddenly understood the mythology of woods. Why they are terrifying, because they reveal so little. The woods and the south east in general are witchy places.
The sun went down but the temperature never dropped. The dogs put themselves to bed in the tent and my husband and I made love on a blanket next to the fire. Immediately after, the clouds cleared for about 10 minutes gifting us the full moon.
As a cynic, it is difficult for me to say this, but it felt magic. Here I am, a 33 year old woman and until Saturday night around 9pm I had never been naked under a full moon. I didn't pray or evoke any personified moon spirit, even though in the moment I realized how rare it was and wondered if I would squander it. I just walked around, clam until the clouds made the moon, and my skin and my husband invisible again. We kicked out the fire and went to bed. It was both commonplace and something I will never in my life forget.