I went with my children to their 4H Club owling night. It was a great experience and I felt like writing about it afterward.

We arrive late. The notebook my oldest insisted they needed five extra minutes to find is forgotten the moment we pull into our parking spot. They hop out of the car and disappear around the back of the house, joining their friends at the warmth of the winter campfire.

My youngest is more nervous as they slip out of their booster seat and onto the driveway beside me. They’ve never liked the dark and the 4H Club’s owling night is taking place firmly after sunset. The sky above is nearly black and there’s no moon tonight. Just the glow of the house lights and the flicker of the campfire.

After a brief bout of marshmallow roasting, the rules are laid out. We’re here to see if we can lure out some owls. We’ll need to be silent and we’ll need to be still; two things I rarely associate with children. My youngest especially is a creature of sound — always talking and always moving.

Even so, the kids all make a noble effort. We follow the night’s leader out into the forest, leaving the glow of manmade lights behind us. My oldest walks ahead of me, enmeshed with their friends. My younger child stays close to me, walking with their hand wrapped in my own as our feet crunch through the ice-glazed snow.

I cannot recall the last time I’ve ever been in darkness like this. The people around me melt away into walking shadows. Even my child next to me loses all features and distinction. If I didn’t know the feel of their hand or the sound of their breath, I could mistake them for any six-year-old.

We stop and all stand still. My youngest gestures for me to pick them up. They’re getting a bit old for that, but I still give in almost immediately. A moment later they’re in my arms, pressing against me with their familiar wiggling weight. I see them grin at me in the dark. I smile back.

A fake owl call echoes into the night. The children do their best to stay quiet as we wait for a real owl to call back to us. The only reply we receive is the gentle gust of the wind. My child shivers against me. Shadow-trunked trees sway back and forth, their limbs stretching up toward the sky.

My eyes drift upward and I notice, for the first time, how bright the stars are tonight. They’re glowing above us like jewels, glittering with a radiance I can’t imagine I’d find if we were stargazing back on the lamplit street of our neighborhood. I lose myself in the sight of them for a moment, tracing the shape of constellations as we wait for some sign of anything.

The sign never comes. We try three more times in three more places before we finally admit defeat. My children don’t seem disappointed. They return to the campfire, chattering freely after the monumental struggle of staying momentarily quiet. I watch them laugh and smile to myself, pulling in a chilly breath and letting my gaze slip skyward again.