Alone in the woods is scary enough for an adult

Posted: Friday, January 29, 2010

In an area like this one, the "Lost in the Woods" course being taught this Saturday seems like a necessity for anyone with youngsters.

While I don't have children, I feel confident in saying that ALL children are fairly unpredictable. Even when they seem to have the gist of directions from an adult, if left to their own devices long enough, they still seem to find someway to foul up the task at hand. And the younger they are, the quicker this seems to happen.

To some degree, this is an acceptable part of human development. Children taught to pour their own cereal will inevitably spill some milk -- no biggie, but children who wander off in the woods while their parents are distracted are in an entirely different matter.

This is a truly dangerous situation.

Adding to the dilemma, children lack the brain development to rationally think their way through these dilemmas. Being lost in the woods as an adult is frightening enough, but imagine it through the eyes of children, who, in addition to the realistic fears like bears, also may be concerned with dinosaurs, mothmen, or something else ridiculous to us, but horrific to them.

I honestly can't even imagine it, based on my own "perceived" close calls in the woods as an adult. One camping trip in my mid-20s comes immediately to mind.

I was deep in the backwoods of the Appalachian Mountains down in north Georgia, ironically, very near where the movie "Deliverance" was filmed, and I don't know if this was weighing heavy on my mind or what.

After a long day of hiking, and being at least 20 to 30 miles from the closest road or trailhead, I decided to set up camp just after sundown. It was a scenic spot, near a moderately-sized lake at the bottom of a heavily-wooded hillside. I had set up the tent, boiled some water, eaten dinner and turned in for the night, but about an hour or two into the evening things started getting weird.

There was a huge splash in the lake outside my tent, and it seemed like just inches from where my head was. In my half-awake state the first thought in my head was "That sounded exactly like someone throwing a cinder block in the water."

I tore out of the tent, threw on my headlamp and began scanning the scene.

The only thing I saw were ripples on the water.

It was a starless night, as black as a coal miner's rear end. The hair on the back of my neck began to rise as I deduced there were no rocks that could have rolled, and no limbs over the water that could have snapped. Outside my narrow beam of illumination lurked who knew what.

I zipped back into the tent and amazingly -- albeit after what seemed like forever, but was likely less than an hour -- I started to fall back asleep. However, it happened again. The same noise, and again, the splash was just feet from my campsite.

Two times was no coincidence, so now my mind really began to wander. I couldn't force out mental images of filthy, overall-clad hilly-billies holding axes and sharp knives in their hands each with four fingers from years of inbreeding.

I tried to compose myself, but it was nearly impossible. I was alone, weaponless and miles from anything familiar. I was sitting rigid in the tent, the door still zipped shut as my only protection, my light off to not give the killers my exact location.

I didn't know what to do, so I did what every slasher-film victim does just before they meet their untimely demise. To no one in particular I just meekly said one word.

"Hello?"

I know it seems like it would be a relief, but I can't tell you the terror that grew from not hearing anything. No maniacal laughter, no approaching footsteps, no starting chainsaws -- just silence and it was deafening.

To be brief, this went on several more times throughout the night, and each time my blood ran a few degrees cooler. I didn't know what was out there, but I knew it must be evil to toy with me in such a way.

At first light, I packed up and high-tailed it out of there as fast as I could. Once out of the woods, I drove to the closest establishment to sip a cup of coffee while trying to figure out who or what the source of my tormentor had been.

As it turns out, after telling a local about my harrowing evening, he informed me that the lake I had stayed on was well known for its territorial beaver population. And anyone who knows anything about these flat-tailed furbearers can tell you, the way one wards of invaders of their territory is by violently slapping their tail at the surface of the water, and then submerging.

There was no abomination or lunatic escaped from an asylum.

It was a beaver. A BEAVER for Pete's sake!

The source of my fright was a buck-toothed mammal trying to get me away from a water source it had claimed.

So to get back to my initial point: if an educated, rational, adult like myself could be convinced I was about to meet my doom in this situation, what would it be like in a child's mind?

Joseph Robertia can be reached at joseph.robertia@peninsulaclarion.com.



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