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Lessons learned from a night sleeping in the open

Sun Advocate community editor

Just about the time I think I know about something, I find out there is a whole lot I don't know. Take my neighborhood for example.

After having lived there for six years, driving in and out of it and walking around it four to six times a week for the last year since I decided one of the ways to be more healthy was to exercise regularly, I thought I knew it well.

But where you live and it's surroundings just don't have to do with the place, but also with time. The time of day at which it is observed and a persons place within that time have a lot to do with the impressions we gain from any place we may be.

This past weekend my grand kids visited me from Salt Lake and part of the plan for them was a sleep out. These three boys had never slept outside in the open anywhere but in their backyard so I offered, as a transition to an eventual real camping trip with me, a chance to sleep out in the pasture behind my house. And of course "grumpy" as I am known to them had to sleep out there with them to keep the demons away.

After some roasting of marshmallows in the barbecue and some scared goodnights to mom and dad who were going to sleep comfortably in my house, the kids climbed into their tent and within five minutes, to my surprise, the giggling and excitement dropped off into a deep slumber; so much so I could hear all three of them snoring.

No camping trip, even one in the backyard, is ever complete without forgetting something and the kids had failed to bring their sleeping bags with them. Consequently mine were in the tent with them and I lay outside the entrance on a piece of patio furniture wrapped up in a blanket with a piece of foam rubber for a pillow. Not fashionable in any way, but certainly adequate for a warm summer evening.

Of course the kids had imagined all kinds of dangers in the wilds of Carbon County. Earlier in the evening they had asked me about bears and wolves, while I retorted with raccoons and skunks. Apparently my reassurances worked since they fell asleep so fast. However, for me slumber did not easily come.

It was the first time in many years that I had actually slept directly under the stars. Over the years camping for me has gone from sleeping as a kid most nights of the summer gazing at the nights sky from the soft grass of my parents lawn to eventually securing a tent as a teemager and then into adulthood being way too comfortable in trailers and campers with running water, heaters, stoves and of course soft, familiar beds. It was almost like I was experiencing sleeping out for the first time again, as I sat wide eyed looking a the sky that had cleared of smoke from range fires earlier in the day. I watched the "blue moon" that appeared over the trees for at least an hour, as it slowly passed from east to west. Then I dozed off.

During the night I woke up several times, due to the cramped condition of my sleeping quarters and various unfamiliar noises around me. Each time I traced the passage of time, not by looking at my cell phone which was laying on a bench next to me, but by where that big moon was in the sky.

Sleeping in the house, even with the windows wide open, changes ones perception of the nature of a place. For instance the subdued sounds of U.S. 6 in the distance in the house, are much louder when no walls are there to sheild out the din. Of course that highway is nothing to live by compared to the noise I used to experence living next to I-15 in Salt Lake in the 1980's, but things are relative and you become used to your circumstances.

I learned however that the most prevelant noise in the middle of the night are the crickets with their never ending chirps that are relaxing and annoying at the same time. It wasn't like I didn't know that they were there, but I seldom concentrated on them before.

Other noises that woke me up was an animal running through the grass near my west property line. What it was I don't know, but I suspected a cat or maybe a raccoon.

Then there was the noise coming from houses. It was, afterall, Saturday night, so people were up late, but nonetheless I was hearing things in the neighborhood I had never heard before. Down the street I heard a cars engine shut off after it had passed my house. Little kids voices took it's place screaming and yelling, as concerned parents told them to be quiet because people "are trying to sleep."

From another direction I heard an argument. It wasn't that I could discern the words, but I could detect the animosity between the parties by the tone of their conversation. A female would yell and then a male voice would grumble. That too eventually died out, and then the crickets took over the moonlit landscape once again.

Through the night there were many more unusual sounds from someones garage compressor starting up far off in the distance, to the birds chatting loudly above me in a chinese elm tree.

As the sky started to glow read in the east I woke up once again, and this time I stayed awake. The roosters around the neighborhood started to crow and I began to hear early risers up in their yards clipping lawns and setting sprinklers. Either because of the calm in the air or because I was actually listening with nothing else on my mind, they all seemed crisper, and more meaningful that they usually do.

So in the end, a first adventure for my grand kids actually turned into a renewal of a long past experience for me. It just put another chapter into my book of lessons learned from things I thought I knew. And when the kids began to arise at about 8:30 am, I found that I was the one that was really touched by the experience, while for them it just seemed to be another nights sleep.

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