A night under the stars
When Stefano Pucci, an experienced Apuan Alps mountain guide announced the excursion of the 13th of August, I did not really know whether I should participate or not. The program was very tempting:
– Ascent to Monte Croce Mountain to admire the sunset.
– Dinner under the stars.
– Take night pictures.
– Spend the night outdoors.
– Back to Monte Croce Mountain to watch the sunrise.
– Breakfast with cake and descent to the cars.
I had never slept outdoors, so I obviously lacked the right equipment. In addition, I was not sure whether I would find the time. Deep inside, however, I knew that these were all just excuses. In reality, I have suffered from agoraphobia for years, and still don´t always feel comfortable in public places or wide open spaces. A welcome opportunity to find out how I deal with my fear today.
After gathering information about the current standards regarding a suitable backpack (yes, there are actually also models for women), a sleeping bag adapted to size, weight and season as well as a mattress (self-inflating), I bought everything necessary and was ready to go. I felt like a cruise ship on its first maiden voyage, looking forward to cast off the moorings and sail to new horizons. Instead of a cruise ship, I realised later that I should have called myself a tanker, packed to the brim with everything that was necessary for the trip.
Our group consisted of nineteen and a half members, including a father with two daughters under the age of ten, some young people, some not so young, a long-time friend and the half member, my dog,. I already knew the route because I had been here in spring with Stefano Pucci to photograph the daffodils, which was followed shortly afterwards by fields and fields of wild peonies. It was a big surprise to find the meadows still covered with flowers. This time it was white silver thistles (Carlina acaulis) that have been protected for decades, but were previously picked in order to predict the weather. If the flower does not open despite bright sunshine, it is a sure sign that rain is on the way.
After about thirty to forty-five minutes, we reached the base camp at an altitude of over one thousand one hundred metres, where we left backpacks, tents, food and sleeping bags behind, in order to be able to continue the ascent up to the metal crucifix on the top of the mountain more comfortably. We wanted to watch the sun slowly fade and then set below the horizon. The colours were incredibly beautiful and intense, but at the same time soft and delicate, like velvet or silk on the skin. It seemed as if the earth would open so that we could let ourselves sink into her soothing and loving embrace. We did not need to be afraid of the night, because the moon and stars would watch over us. After dawn, the sun would have risen and a new day would begin, waiting to be encountered.
It was almost dark as we slowly descended step by step, down the steep path, through the tall grass with our headlamps, to our base camp. There, a hearty dinner or better “comfort food”, consisting of various sausages, black bread, fresh cherry tomatoes and wine was waiting for us, all homemade by our mountain guide. For dessert, there was cake with fig jam and a homemade elderflower meditation liqueur and in fact, Stefano shared his thoughts about who we are, where we come from and where we are going to.
In the meantime, it was almost midnight, time for some members of the group to go to sleep and for others to photograph (or at least try) the constellation of the Plough or Big Dipper which, at a certain point, seemed to touch the peak of Mount Pania. For me, night photography was an absolute novelty, but thanks to the help of another photography enthusiast, I was able to take pictures of shooting stars and even the Milky Way.
We would have to get up at six o’clock if we wanted to welcome the sun from Monte Croce mountain, which is why it would have been wise to rest for a few hours. I can’t say how many of us really slept. However, from one side or another, a small group of “musicians” came together to delight us with those world-famous “sounds of the night”.
I knew that I wouldn’t be able to close my eyes, but I still slipped into my sleeping bag and watched the sky with the bright young stars and the old ones dying above me. I forgot time, place, people around me and somehow myself too, but still felt that everything in the universe has its place and a reason to exist. In this complete darkness and silence, I listened to my inner self, trying to understand how I felt about being in the middle of nowhere.
At some point it was time to get up, climb up Monte Croce mountain and wait for the sunrise, knowing that a new day would dawn which wanted to be lived to the fullest. We were all still quite sleepy, but no one would have wanted to miss this magical moment.
Then we returned to base camp and enjoyed breakfast with one or two pieces of cake. Those who had, drank water because the sausages from the evening before had been quite salty. All we had to do now was pack up our belongings and leave the meadow as clean and tidy as we had found it, and finally go back to our cars.
My dog, a Dutch shepherd who never left “his herd” out of sight, took his task very seriously, even after sunset. He was sitting next to us vigilantly all night, without taking even one little nap. Undoubtedly, he smelt the animals around us, who were certainly not too enthusiastic about us intruders.
Stefano Pucci organises this special hike only once a year. I have already booked for next year. My dog too, by the way. Would I like to attend a concert in a huge open space with fifty thousand people or more around me? I’m working on it..