Camping on Halloween Night

tent in the forest, autumn

I was lucky enough to be able to camp this Halloween weekend. While I love the costumes and the candy and the gentle anarchy of Halloween in the city, I was very happy to be able to spend this Halloween out in nature. My only other nature-based Halloween was many years ago, in rural Ireland, where I wandered the countryside alone at sunset, hoping to spot a ghost or a fairy or a faun.

Maybe it is just the power of suggestion, or maybe it’s something else, but Halloween night has always carried a charge for me–it just feels different, whether you’re on the street with a bucket of candy, holed up in the house with a pumpkin beer or out in the woods. It’s said that the veil between the worlds is thinnest on Halloween night, and I’m willing to buy that, because somehow the air always feels full of potential.

This Halloween night, I was camping at 6,300 feet in the Angeles National Forest. The weather in Los Angeles has continued depressingly hot and clear and dry, despite the arrival of autumn. On Halloween evening, though, clouds gathered in the sky, obscuring the relentless blue. Around twilight  those clouds dropped. They just fell straight down from the sky, as if someone cut their strings, and they turned into a sort of high fog with feathery, creeping tentacles exploring the tops of the pines and the cypress. And those creeping clouds drifted ever lower as the light faded, and a breeze kicked up, which sent the golden leaves on the ground a-dancing. I sat by the fire, looking down a long path lined with swirling leaves, shivering bushes and tendrils of fog and waited to see a fairy, or maybe a Black Rider.

Then the daylight vanished abruptly, like someone turning out an overhead light.  Fifteen minutes later, I couldn’t find my hand in front of my face. Darkness swallowed everything whole.  We read scary stories by the campfire and ate apples baked in the coals.

Late that night, after I was safely tucked in my bag, rain started to fall. The first significant rain of the year, the first significant rain in maybe 9 months or so. All night long the wind in the trees roared and boomed–it sounded like waves crashing on rocks. The rain sheeted down on my tent while the wind shook the sides.  (A five year old tent which has never been tested in the rain–that’s SoCal camping for you!). It did not leak, thank the Great Pumpkin.

I have to say, I have never been happier on any Halloween.

At dawn I woke up to a world soggy and remade. The rain had carved deep channels and rivulets in the hard-packed soil. The scrubby, hard-bitten plants eking out their living on the granite slopes shimmered in the morning light, free of dust for the first time in months, revealing their true and gentle colors.

I heard water and ran to the stream bed. The day before it had been dry, now it ran with water. I knew it was a temporary flow, but the sight of running water after a long dry summer brought tears to my eyes, and I remembered that Halloween is the Celtic New Year. It’s a time of darkness, and a time of death (the traditional time for slaughtering stock), but in death there is renewal, and I felt that renewal in the moist loam beneath my feet and the cheerful dripping of the trees, and I heard it in the water, and I gave thanks for the rain.

And an hour later, it began to snow.

snow on pine trees

Leave a comment


  1. The reason that day “feels” different is because it is . . . and not for the good.

    “All Hallows’ Eve” is rooted in paganistic ritual acknowledging the(temporary) spiritual powers from the Sitra Achra or “Other Side” that God has created to give us Free Choice — sorcery, black magic, necromancy — the darkest of the dark. That’s why its celebration promotes the dead, the half-dead, the formerly dead, the about-to-be-dead, the should-be-dead, the Son of the Dead, etc. and all the creepy things people imagine about them.

    Walgreen’s, however, thinks Halloween is a blast.

    I don’t know about you, Mrs. Homegrown, but God has given us a clear directive to “Choose Life!” . . . and I want to celebrate mine with the Giver of Life, not against Him.

    • Clearly this is not a subject about which we are ever going to agree, though I respect your passion and your right to your beliefs.

      All I’ll say, by way of clarification of some of the thoughts behind my post, is that to me, Halloween is a very necessary means for our culture to confront and even celebrate our fear of death and the unknown, and I’m happy to see that Dia de los Muertos is growing in popularity every year as a time to honor our dead.

      There is no light without darkness. There is no life without death. This season sits on the knife’s edge of these dualities and many others, which is why it carries such power. This does not, however, make it a celebration of evil.

  2. And then there is Dia de los Muertos, and how the pre-Christian Mexicans celebrate the same time of year by remembering and honoring their dead. I love this time of year and its renewal and remembrance (especially today – a big thank you to my grandfather and dad who served in the world wars).
    I grew up in the LA basin – so glad to hear nature is renewing it. Thank you for sharing such a beautiful experience.

    • Yes, I also take great comfort in Dia de los Muertos.

      And indeed, many thanks to your father and grandfather–and all of our veterans!

  3. What a wonderful experience! Your descriptions are magical. Of course, I like hearing about it so I don’t have to camp. Can I just go to a motel at bedtime? I am exercising great restraint in this comment, so I don’t go off on the commenter who chastised you.

    I love every little bit of Halloween, but your experience is beyond anything I have experienced on Halloween. Maybe we could start a new tradition of camping or going into the woods. Your description evoked memories of Young Goodman Brown by Nathaniel Hawthorne.

  4. Parsimony, you are very welcome to sit around the campfire with us any time (and then drive back to the comfy hotel!)

    I will read Young Goodman Brown asap.

    • I am eager to hear what you think of Young Goodman Brown! I suppose I would have to walk back through the dark woods ALONE to my car? Woods/forests scare me nearly to death. Besides, I might fall down. I am a wimp and clumsy.

    • Poor Goodman Brown! Guess in those days you couldn’t up and move to the big city when the neighbors took to devil worship?

  5. A magical night indeed. I have never camped, but your experience make me wish I could.
    I love Halloween, always have and the older and wiser I get I realize why we need it (and other similar holidays) in our “fear of all things death” society.
    I worked as a nurse so death was part of my life, as it should be with all of us….no one gets out alive.

  6. So, I’m not the only person who feels a difference on Halloween; glad to know it! There is definitely a special, other-ness about it, something sacred, too. It is one of my favorite nights of the year, along with the night of the Winter Solstice.

  7. What a great experience! I feel that there’s something special about Halloween as well, and I would have loved to wander the Irish countryside on Halloween night. One Halloween night I was home alone, and I noticed that the light was on in the barn loft. I hadn’t been in the barn all day, so it wasn’t me! I bravely (running at full speed, taking 4 dogs with me) went out to shut the light off. The only rational thing I can come up with (and rational is NO fun) is that since the light switch is behind the ladder to the loft, a kitty managed to trigger the switch on the way up to the barn. Not that I have ever seen the kittys use the ladder…

  8. I spent my Halloween at Sylmar where, surprisingly the streets weren’t full of children trick-or-treatin’ but instead HS girls in various costumes whose common denominator were really skimpy skirts/shorts (one was in her “Cabo-Spring-Break” costume, another one with a tightened-n-knotted-behind-the-back white shirt, that had SL_T printed in red on the front and in the back read: All I need is “U”).

    The last Halloween I spent in West Hollywood, and I’m starting to think Halloween isn’t pagan or about the dead or kids innocently getting candies anymore, but like MardiGras or Spring Break or these Pimp and Ho’s party, but rather something akin to Saturnalia in Rome.

    So on one hand I’m worried about more and more born-Agains not partaking or actively protesting Halloween as some anti-Christian or anti-God festival, BUT

    on the other, I’m worried it’s become some sort of sexual release valve, like a Spring Break of HS kids, only they are parading there costumes (and with it their lewd behaviour) in public in full few of families with little children.

    This Holiday definitely needs course correction, and maybe a Halloween spent in the woods, telling ghost stories, is just what this holiday needs. Thanks for a great idea!

  9. Simply inspirational. I think I’ll try camping next Halloween. I agree, it is a time of year that makes me wake up from a long summer’s doze. I love the changing shadows, the smell of the air, the shorter days.

    As for what we celebrate on that or any evening, I think it’s an important reminder to us that nothing lasts forever, and that we should all remember the good that has come before, and anticipate the renewal that can only come to us after a winter sojourn.

    I love fall.

  10. What a beautiful, inspiring post. I agree that Halloween always feels a bit different and have always felt like fall is a new beginning, rather than the end many people view it as. Especially now that I’m a farmer, it just feels right to celebrate the new year now rather than in January!

    I just started reading Seasons of the Sacred Earth by Cliff Seruntine–you may enjoy this read as well!

  11. Two thumbs up on this post from a fellow Angeleno. Great to get the dispatch from nature–never had an ‘away from it all’ Halloween myself.

  12. It sounds magical! I, too, love Halloween (ignore the commercialization and bring on the Die de los Muertos parts of it… I seem to fit in here!).

    Your skillful reply to the first poster is commendable!

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