Quehanna Valley of the Elk, with Frost Mist Rising

When we last left our intrepid backpackers, they were just getting ready for bedtime in their back-country campsite in the Quehanna Wild Area's Valley of the Elk. Little did they know what the night held in store for them. But now it is time to tell of those adventures too.

We were preparing our campsite for overnight, when the howling noises began. There is a coyote den, at least one and maybe more, further down the valley beyond our campsite. We know it is there because we have heard them before, and once we even stumbled upon the coyote bone pile, the place where the bones of those they'd eaten lay.

It sounded as though the coyotes were yipping up a storm, and having quite a party down on the shelf along the creek. Though when we talked about it later, my husband insisted they must have stayed along the top of the ridge and treeline you see in this photo, not down in the flat along the creek.

The coyotes yipped and yowled and partied from about 9 pm until midnight, when two other things happened: the moon rose, and the bugling of the elk began! Yes, bugling! The bugling was taking place further down the valley and to the right. One might have been able to walk there, but one would not be advised to do so in the dark. The Milky Way and the star show above our heads were fantastic.

Once it began, the bugling took on a life of its own. I have no idea how many elk there were, as we never actually saw even one! But we heard them, and we saw their hoof prints in the sand along the creek, and their scat in our campsite amid the pines.

If you have never heard an elk bugle, you simply must have a look and listen on YouTube. It's a sound unlike no other, though when the bugling trills off into whistles and breathy squeals at the end, the bugling can resemble that humpback whale sound that all of the Star Trek cast go back to Earth seeking in Star Trek IV.  More bugling and other elk sounds are available here.

I had brought ear plugs along, so I could have silenced the cries of the elk if sleeping had mattered a lot to me. But the adventure seemed important to be present for, and so I was. I kept waking in the night to hear the elk still bugling (get a room, somebody!), and to watch the moonlight shining through the trees.

And then the bottom dropped out and it got really COLD. My husband reported awakening with a full-body shiver at 4 am. Maybe time to get out a better sleeping bag. It actually dropped 35 degrees from the prior day!

And when I awoke, I thought I saw something white out in the valley. Could it be snow? No, it was silver-white and sparkled. We had had our very first hard frost in the Valley of the Elk, and I was going to be there to witness the morning frost mist show!

Those of you who have been following my journal know how much the morning mist shows mean to me. I love the mist and I chase it in the mornings if I get a sense that it's waiting out there. And perhaps best beloved of all is the frost mist, which when the sun hits it, turns golden, and then rises like angels into the light.

I left my tent quite early, as soon as I saw the light coming, and over to the rock overlooking the valley I went. And so it was that of a late September morning, I sat on the rock and watched the first rays of light hit the Valley of the Elk.

Seven blue jays flew by, all in one group, as though the window of heaven had opened and they had been sent down. The light was golden and beautiful, and I felt like I may have been sitting on one of the first rocks, watching the world being born at my feet. It was ethereal, enchanting, otherworldly.

I wanted to go down into the valley and see for myself what it was like along the creek, but first I went back to the campsite to check to see if my husband was up. He was still asleep so I tiptoed away, grabbing a bottle of water and a snack bar for my breakfast-on-the-go.

And then down to the creek I went, carefully, of course, as the frost was already starting to melt as the sunlight hit it, and everything was suddenly wet and dripping and slippery on the hill.

But as I sidled and slid down into the valley, it was all mist, and I walked to the tree on the corner that I like and took some shots back of the flat shelf of a meadow by the creek, covered in silver-white frost. Even the spider webs were frozen.

I looked own at my feet and the ferns, which had already begun changing to golden brown for autumn, were covered in frost; I've included a photo of that in the extras, for the fern lovers. Take note: Jack Frost was here!

I walked a ways down the valley and took a bunch of pictures, and then walked back up, my pant legs soaked from the melting frost. Unlike the prior day, it felt like WINTER in the morning, and autumn in the afternoon! My husband was up by then, and so we both then walked out to the rock to sit and enjoy the view.

It was going on 9 am, and the elk bugling had continued all through the night and was still going on down below us. But at 9 am, promptly, it shut off, as though there were a curfew on bugling. (Will there be cash fines imposed for those who bugle past 9?)

We only spent a few more hours at our campsite before packing it up and hiking out. Neither of us wanted to leave. My husband begged me just to leave him there, sitting in his chair. But we had other places to go, other things to do. So eventually, we packed up, walked out, got in our car, and headed home where that Tabbycat would be waiting.

On Monday, I was finally showing my husband pictures of the frost and the mist that he had missed, and all the pictures from our trip, and I was practically crying, I was so happy. It had been such a delightful experience on every level.

I mean WHO gets a frost mist show in September? I don't think I ever have, until now! And wild howling and bugling to the moon and back, on top of all of that? Please! Who could ask for more?

Me, emotionally: It was fantastic. And totally unexpected.

Husband: It could be heaven . . . heaven could be right here.

Me, nodding: This would be heaven enough for me.

And then we talked about our deaths, which we hardly ever do. Because we can't bear the thought of ever being parted, we do not like to speak of it. But it seemed appropriate at the time. Big adventures. Big thoughts.

Husband, in a choked voice: If I go first, you know where I'll be. I'll be waiting there for you, with your tent.

Me, more nodding, equally choked up: Yes, I'll meet you there. I'll see you at the rock overlooking the valley. I'll meet you at our campsite in the Valley of the Elk.

We both knew what he meant, for heaven can be right here among us, if we make it so. As a wise man once said, heaven is under our feet as well as over our heads. Look up. And don't forget to look down, too. Oh, and as I've mentioned, on occasion, you just might need to walk a little ways to find it.

The soundtrack: a delightful, bouncy little happy tune, Randy Newman and Valerie Carter, with Heaven Is My Home, from the soundtrack to the movie Michael (which I highly recommend, and not for the soundtrack alone).

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