A Night Hike on Skidaway Island, Georgia
Skidaway Island was something of an unknown to us. Even though there is a Georgia State Park there, we had never visited. It is very close to Savannah and yet a world away. Live Oaks draped in Spanish moss line the roads and salt marsh fill the low lying areas. The State Park here is well cared for and maintained by a staff and volunteers who appreciate the special beauty of Skidaway Island.
When we arrived at the ranger station to register for a campsite, our host told us about a guided night hike that evening with a ranger and naturalist. We have hiked quite a bit in the daytime, but never a night hike. Sounded like something we wanted to experience. We met with the two rangers leading the group hike at 8 pm and, flashlights in hand, we set off down the trail through the salt marsh.
The marsh is a different place after dusk, with the sound of crickets and frogs replacing the sound of birds. Bats dip and weave over our heads hunting flying insects while fiddler crabs emerged from their burrows crossing our path with their sideways shuffle. We had to focus a bit more on the path to avoid them as well as tree roots from the huge Live Oaks.
It was dusk when we started out and the breeze was slight. It ruffled the marsh grass and whispered through the palmetto and pine overhead. We stopped on a bridge overlooking a large, dry marsh area. It was low tide and all we could see was mud and grass. Little pellets of mud stood in piles next to fiddler crab burrows and rivulets of water began collecting in the deeper crevices of the marsh floor - the tide was coming in again.
We walked on and the dusk deepened to twilight. As we approached a wooded area with a carpet of leaf litter, our rangers instructed us to point our flashlights at the leaf litter. We could see little glints of green - like green glitter in mixed in with the leaves. The ranger explained that spider eyes reflect green in the light! Just as a camera shows "red eye" when a flash reflects off of our retina, a spider's reflects green. Sure enough, on closer inspection we could see the little spiders. So many eyes watching our night hike. Who knew there were so many spiders around our feet? - Just so you know, an alligator's eyes glow red. Gratefully, I did not see any red eyes peering back from the marsh banks. The ranger assured me that alligators prefer fresh water and, since this water is "brackish" - a mixture of salt and fresh, it is unlikely that they would live here.
We moved on to a second bridge this time over looking a huge expanse of marsh. The sound of crickets and frogs filled the air. I could smell sea water and could see the grass moving with each breeze. It all rocketed me back to the edge of twilight many years ago - a memory. I had heard and seen and smelled all of this before. The sound in particular was so familiar yet so long forgotten - from a time when I was very young. I tried to remember where or when to no avail. I was raised on the coast and spent many summer evenings outdoors chasing lightening bugs with the smell of the salt air surrounding me. It was as if time stopped for just a moment while my life caught up with me.
Walking on in the dark, the ranger reminded us that we too, have a type of night vision. We can see shapes and shades of light and dark but not color. Yet we are not very good at 'seeing' in the dark and with that said, she instructed us to turn on our flashlights to avoid tripping over tree roots on the return hike. As we made our way along the path, the darkness wrapped itself around us like a blanket. The night was warm and, though we couldn't see well in the dark, we could still hear the sounds of the night creatures and still smell the marsh around us. One last turn on the path and the lights of the ranger station came into view. We bid our group a good night and walked along the road back to the campground.
Our flashlights guided our feet and we walked slowly back to our campsite. This is an experience I want to remember. A little souvenir added to my mental collection of travel moments. Each one allows me a portal back to a particular place in time. I am more aware of these experiences now that we are traveling regularly and, as my collection grows, I continually add to the bank of memories I can draw on in the years down the road when I am old.
Five Tips to Enjoy a Night Hike more
Take a flashlight. Walking in the dusk on a natural path can be a "trippy" experience! You don't want to return with scuffed knees.
Slow down. A night hike is an opportunity to discover the darkness and that's hard to do when you are hurrying along the trail.
Be prepared to listen intently. Once the light of day fades, there are so many new sounds that surround you in the outdoors. Don't talk more than necessary. Let the sounds of the night fill the space.
Try not to be skittish. There are bats and spiders and all sorts of creatures flying above your head and skittering around your feet. Enjoy the sense of anticipation!
Become aware of your surrounding. Feel the breeze, smell the earthiness of the dusk, adjust your eyes to the dark and see the shadows. Even a familiar place has a different personality in the dark.