Hiking in the Dark

Remembering Here&Now

Madhuri’s late night roaming in the Oregon hills

One spring night in 1983 Subuddha and I left Magdalena Cafeteria after dinner, and went up to his house on the slope behind. There, on the spur of the moment, we decided to hike up into the high peaky hills that went on and on behind that, into we-knew-not-what. At that time I lived way out in the farthest outpost of housing: If you took the school bus down the valley past RBG and then on a further distance, a rough road curved up to the left. After a goodly distance there were, on the left, two trailers. Subuddha and I had a vague, crazy notion of heading over the hills to my house.

dark heart

The night was moonless, overcast. A trail ascended the hill for a short stretch only, then petered out. We climbed through a fence, bending over and flattening our backs, and then stood upright and continued. As we crested the first hill and went down the other side, the lights of Magdalena vanished and we were in the dark.

I cannot overemphasize how unknown to most of us were the hills around the settled part of the Ranch. We worked so hard, and partied too, and generally went exploring only as part of crews sent out to fence or build a lake or dig a foundation. We had no weekends in which to fool around in the out-of-doors. This particular part of the terrain was unused, untraveled. Subuddha and I did not know how far the hills went on jutting up all jumbledy in the rugged landscape; for all we knew there could be wilderness all the way to Yellowknife, Canada.

Right away we were on our hands and knees climbing a steep incline. We could see our pale hands, and we could see rocks, lighter than the surrounding earth – but all else was blackness. I was exhilarated – I was in love with this guy, and now I had him all to myself, and I just didn’t care that all was mysterious and blind. I just went on. Soon I was in the lead, and flying by the seat of my pants – scrabbling, reaching a peak, sliding down the other side, and then encountering a new steep rise to go up, hands in the dirt, on the grasses, on the stone. I hadn’t any idea where I was leading us; I just went.

After a while I perceived, with my paranoid-lover’s sensitivity, that Subuddha was feeling admiration for me, for my daring, for my certainty. This was heady stuff, as by this time in our relating he was the one in charge. I flew on the lift of it, on and on into the deep hours of the wilderness night unfolding.

There is something fabulous, ecstatic, freeing, about hurtling forward when you cannot see a thing – it is just you and darkness, and maybe something else is guiding, or maybe nothing is. You just go. I had once ridden a bicycle through completely nightbound, unlit countryside in Gujarat, up hill and down on rutted roads – and so I knew it could be done. I just let go, and kept going.

We never knew how high any particular hill was going to be; we never knew if the next shuffling step would send us off a cliff or tumbling into a ravine. But we neither tumbled nor crashed; hour after timeless hour we crawled and leapt and walked and slid, and when dawn came gently hoisting the sky on its long arms, inching it towards the deep purple of the upper sky, we were standing on a hillock looking down… at a dusty road! We ran down to that stripe cut through the sagebrush; we ran with the winged feet of those who are on the move when the sun is not oppressing; the flying feet of the young who have just popped the lid off some old forbiddenness. And as we walked up to a curve and turned to the right, there, crouching in the bush, were the little pair of prefab houses where I lived.

Just like that.

Text by Madhuri

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