John Muir often wrote about the stillness of the soul beyond twilight. But in all his reflections, he never expounded on the joys of eating carpenter ants. We were about to break new ground.
Under cover of darkness, with only the moon and a lantern to light our path, we followed our guide from the Tenaya Lodge at Yosemite into the nearby Sierra National Forest. The air was so still we could hear water trickling through the arid creek bed and the faint rustling of dry leaves and needles on the forest floor.
All around us were nature's sweet surprises. We nibbled on miner's lettuce and fiddlehead ferns and pine bark. And ants.
"Blow on the crack in this stump," our naturalist said to one of the dads in the group. Carpenter ants emerged, en masse, as if responding to a fire drill. Three hikers each plucked a bug from the bark and ate it. One man went back for seconds. "Protein," he exclaimed.
A guided night hike was just one of the after-dark adventures we experienced with Tenaya Lodge as our "base camp." The next evening, we took a moonlight excursion on the almost century-old Yosemite Mountain Sugar Pine Railroad.
As the train made its way along the narrow-gauge tracks through the shadowy forest, ghosts seemed to swirl in the steam that shot out of its steely black engine. The lonesome whistle of a steam train at night was at once romantic and unsettling.
The train ground to a halt near a clearing, and like moths to a flame we were drawn to the bonfire nearby. A local guitarist sang songs of the forest and we joined in -- a cacophony of voices in moonlight filtered by giant pines and punctuated by floating embers.
Was John Muir up there, somewhere, in the heavens? Call me crazy, but I could feel his presence on these evening outings. Away from the daytime crowds, I could smell, taste and hear Yosemite and her border forests. Muir said it best when he wrote: "Every leaf seems to speak."
This year, marks the 150th anniversary of the first legislation to protect the almost 1200 square miles of the grandeur called Yosemite.
For more information about summertime specials at Tenaya Lodge at Yosemite, go to www.tenayalodge.com/
Find activities and tours at http://www.nps.gov/yose/index.htm.