The Hot Tent

Reading Time: 3 minutes

I had to get away … right away.

I was in my hot tent in the mountains behind Juneau, Alaska. It was forecast to be -15 degrees overnight, and snow was already falling heavily. Not unexpected in January.

I had set up everything perfectly: the tent, the bed, the stove, the chimney, the wood, the whole lot. People warned me about the brown bears, but I wasn’t scared. I’d done this before. I was no newcomer. No cheechako. All my food was in a sealed container and, I always had a .375 Holland & Holland Magnum with me. To be honest, I thought of my big bore rifle as a last resort. Over the past couple of years, I’d relied more on bear-strength pepper spray. Of course, you’d better make sure the bear is downwind of you. The main thing was to be aware. Always. That was the trick. I guess my personality helped me there.

I was settling in for a week of blissful solitude. Hopefully, without an unwanted visit by a curious grizzly. But I don’t believe that wildlife played a part in what happened. I’ll try to explain.

As a kid, my nickname was Hermit. Everyone recognized pretty early that I was the quiet one. I observed. I listened. I rarely spoke. Even when I had something to say, someone would usually talk over me. Either that or I couldn’t find a moment to get a word in edgewise. People often ignored me. In fact, I’ve had folks walk right by me, not noticing that I was there. Strange. It was like I was invisible.

I’ve had a long time to think about that. If you are silent, you won’t be heard. If you are still, you won’t be seen. It’s like you disappear.

I think I was like that because I often found people’s chatter and clatter utterly overwhelming. I was flooded by their noise but also by a cascading wall of information as I read their expressions and gestures, analyzed their words, their accents, and how they framed arguments. I judged what they knew and what they clearly didn’t.

I had a job once where I overheard someone say about me, “Be careful. He listens to every word you say.” I wanted to tell the guy that that was the least of it.

So, now I heated up a meal on the stove and ate it while I sat on a foldup chair. There, in my warm and cozy lair, I felt a bit like a bear myself. Night came quickly and early. I stuffed the stove full of wood. Lay down. Fell asleep.

Some time, maybe around 3 A.M., I dreamed I was awake, or I woke up in a dream. I’m still not sure which. I was in that blurred edge between sleep and consciousness. That’s when it happened.

Through the walls of the tent, I could see a light moving from north to south. I guessed it was thirty yards away in a thick grove of firs. But, it was the way it moved that was strange. The light crushed all the undergrowth in its way. The light was … heavy. Like a giant metal sphere.

I tensed. I listened hard. The firs murmured in the soft breeze. The falling snow softened every sound.

The light was rolling away. I knew I had to get up.

With one hand, I reached for the pepper spray. With the other, for my H&H.

Muscles tense. Blood pressure up. Heart racing. All senses on the highest alert.

When I threw open the tent flap, the light had gone. I stood enshrouded in the darkest night I’d ever known. I may as well have been blind. In the drifting suffocating snow, I was deaf. In the freezing cold, I was numb.

Whatever was out there, it had vanished. And, so had I.

That’s when I learned why I was there alone on that perfect mountainside. It was the sweetest moment of my life: divine rest.