Night Hiking & Writing – Facing Your Fears

As part of my son’s school curriculum, the entire 4/5th grade classes (about 40 kids) went to farm school this past week in rural northern California, a place where you’re more likely to encounter a cow, sheep, or bobcat on the road than a vehicle. Hawks and turkey vultures circled overhead while hummingbirds buzzed about the honeysuckle and, occasionally, our heads.

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The place is called Oceansong, a wildlife preserve covering more than 350 acres on a ridge overlooking the Pacific Ocean. Kids, teachers, and parents camped, and when we left, we left no trace.

As part of the experience, the kids and adults went on a night hike, ending in a walk by themselves or with a friend in the dark without a flashlight. They were challenged to find their way back to the campsite without talking while their parents and teachers watched and provided emotional support from a hillside.


It’s a right of passage, a way of giving kids confidence in their ability to face the unknown despite their fears. Our son chose to walk alone down a path past a pond filled with chirping frogs. Adults went last, alone or in pairs, to gain a sense of their child’s experience.

I highly recommend this if you’ve never done it.

At the end of the week, midst the bustle of farm school clean-up, I realized that I had not yet heardΒ if I’d been accepted for the 2014 Squaw Valley Writers Workshop. The deadline for response was May 10. Last year, I’d received my acceptance a couple of days before the deadline, so when I checked my email yesterday morning and there was still no note from Squaw, I started chewing my fingernails.


Not that I was looking forward to a delicious week of nothing but writing and writers, oh, and a little of that famous Tahoe scenery, too, I guess. Not that I was craving some alone time, some away-from-the-family time to listen to nothing but my thoughts. Today is Mother’s Day, after all, and shouldn’t I be feeling motherly?

Well, I can be motherly for only so long before I turn into mom-zilla.



As a writer, I should be impervious to that familiar fear, the one that insists I am not good enough to be chosen. “Pick me! Pick me!” cries my inner child.

Well, I did get a note from Squaw yesterday at 3pm, saying that I was on the waiting list. Woohoo!

Now, like my son who’s counting the days until summer break from school, I’ve got three weeks before I know if I’ve made it off the list and into the sweet spot.

But if I’ve learned anything this past week, it’s that walking by myself through the dark is a solitary but not lonely experience. I’ve got a community who’s got my back should I feel overcome by self-doubt.

You guys are out there, right? Hello? Helloooooooooooooo? Did someone move the campsite?






29 thoughts on “Night Hiking & Writing – Facing Your Fears

  1. Carrie Rubin says:

    That night hiking sounds like a wonderful idea, but I admit, I probably wouldn’t be brave enough to do it. I’d be too worried about snakes and other creatures. I like to know where I’m putting my foot…

    I hope you make it off that waiting list. Sounds like a wonderful event.

    Happy Mother’s Day!

    • Jilanne Hoffmann says:

      Thanks, Carrie! You don’t have to worry about snakes at night around here. They’re all so cold-blooded, they wouldn’t be able to move in the 50 degree temps. The kids did have a path to follow, so they weren’t blazing any new trails. So you would have been fine. πŸ˜€

      You should apply to Squaw one of these years. I think you would have a great time!

      Happy Mother’s Day back at you!

  2. Margarita says:

    Congratulations, Jilanne! My daughter went to Caumsett State Park on Long Island when she was about that age and has always treasured those memories. Keeping my fingers crossed to get you on the “Please, come!” list! xoxoM

    • Jilanne Hoffmann says:

      Yes, I think these kids will be telling stories about farm school for years to come.

      Thanks for sending good vibes in this direction. I haven’t had the nerve to consult my magic 8 ball this year. πŸ˜€

      I must remain philosophical. You never know whether the news is good or bad until it leads to something else down the road. I’m specifically thinking of the Zen story recounted by Stillwater, the panda in the Zen Shorts children’s books where good/bad luck is a relative thing.

  3. Mrs. P says:

    That night hike is really quite a challenge…walking in darkness on uncertain roads. I’m curious as to what your son thought about it. So when you did your hike were you thinking about what your son was doing or what yo were doing?

    Oh my, that’s some writer’s workshop to have a waiting list…I hope you get into the final cut…it sounds like a blast and I don’t think you’d make a very good mom-zilla.

    • Jilanne Hoffmann says:

      It’s difficult to tell exactly what he thought. He sounded upset that the boy who followed him was nearly running and making a lot of noise with his feet. I think he was nervous at first and then got into the spirit of the night. He enjoyed talking about the frogs afterward, and we stayed in a cottage this past weekend that had a working porthole in the wall above his bed. He’d open it at night and listen to the frogs talking in the creek next to the house. I think he loves being out in nature. So sad to come back to the city tonight.

      My son can tell you stories about momzilla. She’s not a happy camper and takes away privileges when the circumstances warrant.. πŸ˜€

  4. susanissima says:

    Sounds like your son attends a progressive and adventurous school, Jilanne. How delightful that parents are included in the activities, as well. Chanting for you acceptance into the workshop!

    • Jilanne Hoffmann says:

      Yes, he does. And we are very happy that parents are welcome to participate as much as they can.

      Thank you for the chanting! I would greatly appreciate it if you could keep it up for the next three weeks. But I’ll take whatever energy you have to spare. πŸ˜€

    • Jilanne Hoffmann says:

      I’m thinking you wouldn’t like farm school very much, Mike. My office is a testament to my piling tendencies, and I have to take lots of deep breaths as kids drop, lose, scatter, etc. their belongings about the place. Couple that with a day of “heavy fog” where things scattered about the place end up soaked, and it takes a lot of deep breathing to make it through. I picture you trying to make everything tidy and going a little crazy in the process.

      I haven’t made it in this year, yet! So I would appreciate any good vibes you can send in this direction between now and June 1. I think you’ve got quite a few retreats/conferences in your area, don’t you? Perhaps you need to apply to a few and see what happens.

  5. FictionFan says:

    Ooh, can’t decide whether that sounds terrifying or wonderful – a bit of both perhaps. The night walk I’m talking about obviously – the writer’s camp sounds purely terrifying! πŸ˜‰ However I’m keeping all fingers firmly crossed for you (which may actually improve my typing) since the idea of Mom-Zilla is nearly as scary as the idea of a panda in Zen Shorts!

    All-in-all this post has made me feel in need of some calming breaths and a wee lie down…

    • Jilanne Hoffmann says:

      Let’s call the night hike sublime. How about that? A blend of terrifying (in an awe-inspiring way) and that sense of wonder (possibly also terrifying) that only the natural world can provide.

      Thanks for keeping all those fingers crossed for me! I hope you’ll be able to straighten them once June 1st arrives. I just realized that Zen Shorts can be read two different ways. Hilarious! I wonder if someone has already designed and is marketing zippy shorts for Buddhists.

      If you’re looking for some calming breaths, my latest post at the Dogpatch about yoga, mindfulness, raisins, and writing should fit the bill. πŸ˜€

      • FictionFan says:

        Yes, in my head I’m an outdoorsy-type adventurer. But the rest of me isn’t so keen…

        Haha! I think your son could do a whole series of cartoons on the Zen Shorts-wearing panda!

        Well, I do like raisins. πŸ˜‰ I shall amble over there…

    • Jilanne Hoffmann says:

      I think it helps make you less scared if you really listen to the sounds of nature. There’s so much to hear at night, so many little sounds. But then again, that may be what creeps you out! πŸ˜€

      Thanks for sending some four leaf clovers my way! I hope their magic works!

  6. Letizia says:

    I love the idea of a night hike, both for kids and for adults. Especially without a flashlight. It reminds me a little bit of those restaurants where you eat in the dark in order to amplify the other senses. Your sense of hearing must have been particularly keen!

    • Jilanne Hoffmann says:

      Yes! The frogs, the wind in the trees, the sound of my own footsteps. I became very aware that I am an animal and also aware of how much I depend on my sense of sight to navigate through the world. In the city, it is often easy to forget this because we do so much that is visual and cerebral and disconnected from the other senses.

  7. Britt Skrabanek says:

    I remember my first night hiking experience at summer camp when I was a young lassie. It was terrifying and exhilarating. I kept my fears in check by concentrating on my breath and relaxing my eyes so they would adjust to my surroundings. That was all I needed to make it back in the dark. Definitely felt like a rite of passage.

    Best of luck to you for the workshop, Jilanne! Fingers crossed.

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