Tuesday, December 10, 2013

An Encounter at Willow Creek

The only thing I knew was that I was frightened and far from camp.

 It surprised me. I had no reason. I froze and looked around and listened. It took me while to realize it wasn't anything I had seen or heard that had put me in such a state, It was what I didn't see or hear. The forest had suddenly become very quiet. The birds were still and out of sight. Perhaps the most disquieting thing was the constant white noise of the insects had stopped as well. The only sound was the wind in the trees and the brush and the grass.

I was several miles beyond the far turn of the Bear Canyon Loop Trail and radically off path by just as far, blazing my way north beyond even the most ancient of fire roads. I carried water, tobacco, sardines,and grass. I was in no hurry, save the waning of the day. I had may be an hour to return to the trail before dark and probably another hour or two to camp.

I had kept a steep ravine a couple of hundred yards to my right once I left the trail. It was overgrown with Ponderosa, Doug Fir, and all manner of rim cover. I remember thinking that elk could never fit between the trees if they were even able to negotiate the grade. I knew that Willow Creek (one of many named that in the high country)ran along the bottom. The deadwood alone, on these pristine uncut slopes, was probably chest high or better.

I decided to follow the edge of the ravine back south, to a point where the trail curved in sight of it and so, find my way home. When I was about twenty feet from the tangled line of growth, I heard a sound that made the hairs on the back of my neck and arms reach for the sky. I had faced big cats from ten feet away, I chased a wolf once.Nothing frightened me like this growl (for lack of a better word for it).

“Don't act like food!” Was my first thought. So I stilled my shaking and calmly, but with purpose, continued on my way.

There was a crash to my left and behind, like a large branch falling from a tree, then another just ahead. I did the only thing I could do. I had another one hit of the grass that woman left me. After a while I continued and the howl repeated. The crashes repeated. I rolled and lit a cigarette and pretended not to be food as best I could. I never looked to the left, for fear I would see what was stalking me and immediately and involuntarily act like food. I remember thinking something was protecting it's young or home. I remember hoping that.

The sun was behind the trees. It would be dark very soon.

I thought of the sardines and how hungry I was, but dared not open them for fear it would bring trouble.

It was terrifying walking like that, in the surreal landscape of twilight. It seemed like hours, just waiting for the inevitable. I peed once, hoping to offend the creature with my foul human scent. I stumbled up a low incline and into a clearing. I had found the path.

Once I got back to the old fire road, it was pitch black, my way was lit only by the stars and bright, glorious Venus. I hadn't heard anything for awhile, but still I walked down the middle of the trail, as far from the inky blackness of the trees as I could. I was still shaky hours later when I returned to camp.

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