Walking into the dark woods.

Written By Heather - February 15, 2014

On Thursday night, there were two concerts and a volleyball game between the Montagues and the Capulets (the cast of a production of Romeo and Juliet are here; I can just barely see them working on swordplay and movement rehearsals from where I sit to write). But there was also the night walk and bonfire with a local guide and naturalist. I put my name on the list, thinking that the bonfire would be nice. I really nice a nice wood fire.

Night shadows.

As it turned out, I was the only one to turn up for the night walk and bonfire thing. The two concerts and the warring volleyballers of fair Verona had just about everybody in the arts programs wrapped up. The guide arrived, and we waited a few extra minutes to see if anybody would arrive, and then we went out on our own while a helpful Banff Centre staffer went to start the bonfire.

Tunnel mountain at night.

We went out on the Hoodoos trail, which runs behind the Banff Centre, down to the river and around the the other side of Mount Rundle. The guide, Ronna, had cleats for me (phew) and then said that we’ve be going out without flashlights or headlamps. She had them, but we were going to walk by the light of the moon. She had bear spray just in case, and we both had pointy sticks for walking. I was a bit worried about going out into the woods in a national park in the dark, but I decided to give it a go.

Banff at night.

Tunnel mountain at night.

You know, it turned out to be the best thing I could have done. As we stepped into the gloom, it was very dark. Very dark. But Ronna said our eyes would adjust, and they did…gradually, the dark took on a new quality. The light was silvery and shades of grey, but then also a deep green and violet, subtle shades that took on new qualities the further down we went. It was like my field of vision got wider; there was more to the periphery. It was exquisitely silent – not a creepy silent, but a very friendly quiet. It was as if the mountains were rising up to the sky to cradle us, and the trees were gently creaking and whispering with the wind.

Banff in the dark.

We crossed a frozen tributary and came out into an alpine savannah, and there was Mount Rundle, tip stretching towards the moon. It wasn’t a clear night – clouds would come in and cover the moon up, then clear, then cloud over. We stood in the silence and it started to snow, and I swear that I could hear the snow falling crisply all around us.

Banff in the dark.

And then we walked back, into the trees, crossed the river again and came back up to the Banff Centre and had the bonfire.

Banff at night.

Last year was a tough one for writing. I didn’t have the energy or the spirit to write, and I felt very much that I poured everything I had into the surgeries. Everything. It had been so long since I’d written anything that I was starting to feel scared that I wouldn’t be able to. My Banff Centre applications were pleading; I wrote them a letter that more or less said that I needed their help getting my writing back.


When this week started, I wasn’t entirely sure that the writing was going well. It felt stilted and I was doing revisions – I do not enjoy revisions all that much. By midweek, it was getting much better. On Thursday, standing in the dark, looking at the mountains and thinking about the landscape, I felt it come back. Ronna had suggested that we both think about our gratitude to the spirit of the land, and something connected…something suffused me with a feeling of rightness. This experience was something very special and important, and I’m so grateful that I had it.


I walked into the dark woods and I came out a different person. I can’t explain it fully, but something beautiful happened.

Banff in the dark - looking at Mount Rundle.

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  1. Joyce Plunkett says:

    What a lovely experience. Beautifully shared, too.

  2. kmkat says:

    Nature is like that — restoring.

  3. Fred says:

    Sounds like a fantastic experience! I’m so glad the week went so well for you!

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