“A great many people, and more all the time, live their entire lives without ever once sleeping out under the stars.” —Alan S. Kesselheim
The narrow, winding roads leading into Johns Mountain WMA near Rome, Georgia take you into a little-known trout fishing haven nestled among the rolling, wooded hills. This small northwest Georgia stream is regularly stocked with plenty of rainbow trout that school up in pools, making Johns Creek one of the most sought after fishing spots for trout anglers.
I joined my brother, Josh, and our friend, Heath, for a camping trip to Johns Mountain where we hoped to kick back and relax at camp, then rise early to see how many rainbow trout we could catch the next morning. It was June and the Georgia heat was stifling.
As we neared the creek, we noticed a small campsite that was absolutely perfect. We pulled in and began unloading our gear to set up camp. The smooth, flat ground was situated just a few yards from a steep hill that overlooked Johns Creek. Only a handful of other trucks passed by our secluded campsite that night. We were all excited to finally be on a camping trip—myself included as this was the first time I had gone camping in years.
Camping was a way of life for me and my two brothers growing up in rural Georgia. During the summer months when we were free of having to attend school, we camped literally every night that it wasn’t raining from May until September. Our mother would make us come in early Sunday morning and shower to wash off the smokey smell before we went to church.
My two brothers and I absolutely loved camping. We practically grew up outside and we were blessed to have a father and grandfather that encouraged us to enjoy our time in the great outdoors. We shared everything with each other sitting by the campfire year after year. If I know my brothers well enough, I know they, too, feel right at home sitting next to a campfire listening to the sounds of the night.
Fast forward 20 years later and my brother and I are as excited as we were during our childhood to be setting up camp, building a fire, and getting ready to cook dinner over the open flame.
As our camp began to take shape, Josh and I both noticed that we had left out a key item from our camping gear….the tent poles.
“Oh well, we’ll just sleep under the stars,” said Josh. “It’ll probably be better since it’s going to be 90 degrees tonight anyway.”
We turned our focus to the night’s meal that Heath was busy preparing. I’m quite sure that Heath missed his calling as one of the world’s true culinary geniuses. We enjoyed what I can honestly say was the best meal I’ve ever eaten next to a fire that night. To find out more about that recipe and how to prepare the legendary Heathro’s Hobo Dinners, click here.
We finished our meal and sat around the fire for a bit, trading stories about our own outdoor adventures and trying to quell our excitement for fishing the following morning. When we finally did retire for the night to the spot where our tent would have been placed, we quickly realized that there was just as much heat in the midnight air as there was sitting next to the fire.
At this point, I realized how thankful I was to have forgotten the tent poles. As I lay there on the ground, I heard the creek gently rippling over the rocks nearby. There was a slight breeze blowing and I gazed up through the limbs overhead into the stars above. So many people forget how beautiful and relaxing it is to look up at the night sky before falling asleep.
As a child, my father always mentioned how he and his two brothers “slept under the stars” anytime they went camping. I always wondered why he insisted on letting us know that he often neglected the use of a tent when he camped. I felt like he was simply bragging about being a little tougher than we were (I’ll admit that I always felt more secure within the confines of a thin layer of nylon).
As I grew older, I realized that he was merely encouraging us to take a slightly more rugged route. Not because it was harder, but because it was a great way to truly connect to nature.
Many people wouldn’t dare to camp without the comfort of a tent. After all, there are plenty of critters, bugs, rain, and even the possibility of being a little too close to unwanted guests like bears or coyotes.
After our camping trip to Johns Mountain, I think I’ll be sleeping under the stars much more often when I go camping. Breathing in the fresh mountain air was soothing for me and I became lost staring into the sea of diamond-like stars strewn across the expanse of outer space.
Sleeping under the stars gives one a sense of peaceful connectivity with the natural world. Instead of shutting the out the wilderness by zipping a flap shut, you can really come to appreciate being a part of the wide-open beauty of nature. There is a peculiar sense of belonging to the outdoors that you won’t experience inside a tent.
So, the next time you plan to go camping, check the weather and see if it’s going to be a clear night. Leave the tent at home and sleep under the stars and you’ll realize that there is more freedom out there than you think.
“Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out going to the mountains is going home; that wilderness is a necessity.” —John Muir