I believe that there are a few places in this world that exist purely as sanctuaries for one’s soul, and Max Patch is one of those places. On July 26th, my friends and I set out on a small journey into the Blue Ridge mountains, traveling up and down winding gravel roads throughout the forests. The two friends that my boyfriend and I had joining us on this adventure were from Florida and had never seen a clear night sky, so we decided we would change that.
After about 3 hours of driving, we parked at the base of Max Patch Mountain and began to collect our gear to hike up to the summit. Our collective lack of proper lightweight yet effective camping gear resulted in us taking two trips up the mountain, but no one minded the short hike; as it was unbelievably beautiful from every perspective.
The mountain is covered with wildflowers and tall grasses, surrounded by 360-degree mountain views. We wandered up and down the mountaintop admiring the blue giants folding and rising all around us as we listened to the chirping of small songbirds and ran our fingers against the cat-tails and daisies in the grass. It was like walking through a dream, like it always was here.
It was about 7pm, the sun was low, the breeze was cool and soft, everything was so quiet and lovely. Around this time we had finished setting up our camp, so we sent the boys to the edges of the mountaintop field to collect firewood for the night. It was mid-July, however, temperatures will drop quite low overnight at about 5,000 above sea level.
My boyfriend and I discovered this the hard way the first time we camped at Max Patch a couple of summers before. This was when I decided to break out the Puffle, probably the lightest thing we carried up, and the most effective too. The Puffle kept us warm all night and worked far better than any other heavy blanket we had lugged up the mountain.
We laid out among the grass as the sun sank behind the range and we witnessed the entire galaxy unravel itself before us over the next few hours. The sky was completely clear even before sundown, making the perfect red orb look unbelievable as it hovered over the distant mountaintops.
When the last bit of light finally faded out behind the horizon, we heard scattered cheers from others camping around us. It was a moment of magic, a moment of real human emotion for the beautiful grandeur that engulfed us all simultaneously.
With the warmth from the tiny fire we constructed and our cozy Puffle, we could focus all of our energy into the stars, counting the ones that floated across the dark expanse like glowing microscopic plankton skimming its way along a very large Petri dish. We could see the galaxy stretch from one end of the wide Eastern sky, all the way to the other end.
Satellites moved steadily across the vastness and we watched each one as they made their way slowly through a sea of stars. We even saw the international space station for a bit and talked about how strange it is that there are actual people on that satellite just circling the planet endlessly, and how terrifying it might be to live that reality.
I have always found something sacred in night skies; there is something about the way the universe makes you feel so small and yet so comforted when all you can do is stare into that glowing void. You have more questions than answers, and yet you feel safe. It’s hard to say how long we watched the Milky Way, or how much joy we felt welling up in our hearts, but I know that we all walked away as better people because of it.