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08/05/2003 Archived Entry: "I get lost in the woods"

I GOT LOST IN THE WOODS THIS MORNING. It's preposterous, but I did. Preposterous because I was not only within walking distance of home, but I knew there were trails on three side of me and a creek and main logging road on the fourth.

To get lost in such a well-bordered spot takes real talent. Still, I managed.

One of my dogs has a killer prey drive. So she stays on leash wherever we go. But during this morning's walk, she spotted something, bolted hard, yanked the lead right out of my hand -- and off she dashed into the underbrush with sixteen feet of flexi-leash and a big, plastic retractor-handle bouncing behind her.

Predictably, the leash wrapped itself in the brush and halted her. More surprisingly, my strong, speedy, leaping girl managed to run more than 100 yards into the dense tangle of trees, ferns, blackberries, dead branches, and downed logs before getting caught. I had no idea where she was until she began screaming.

Thank heaven Lilli is a screamer. Otherwise, she might be out there still, meekly and silently wrapped around a tree. But her yips, yelps, and whines eventually led me to her. After an unpleasant trek through brush and fallen logs, I reached her and got her loose. Then we headed due east toward the main trail.

Or so I thought.

I absolutely knew where the main trail was. After all, I'd carefully picked out landmark trees on my way in from it. And heavens, the trail was only a football-field away.

So how come the trail wasn't there when we got there? And wasn't in the next direction I tried, either? Or the next? (All the while I took great care to tend eastward, where I knew the trail lay.)

After perhaps half an hour, I did spot a trail off in the distance. Above the brush, I recognized it by its lighter green border of alders. (I get credit for exactly that much woodcraft today, even if not one other darned bit.) And eventually I managed to push my way onto it.

Turned out it wasn't the main trail I “knew” we'd been headed toward. Hardly. This trail was more blackberry bramble than open path. Pushing through it was more nasty than getting through the trackless woods had been. I wasn't even sure which trail it was or whether I'd turned the right direction on it to get me where I wanted to go.

Well, it did eventually take us to the main trail and all was well. But one reason I hadn't recognized the overgrown trail -- or wouldn't believe what I actually did recognize, since I'd been on that trail a hundred times before it became so overgrown -- is that all the while I'd been heading “east,” I was actually veering southwest. I came out 120 degrees from where I thought I was going.

Now, is that embarrassing, or what? Scary, too. How easy it is to get so turned around, even in a small and familiar place.

If I want to make myself feel just a little better, I could blame part of my lost-ness on the difficulty of creeping through dense brush on the return trip with a dog on leash. There was no way to do a tidy "heel" in such terrain. The hundred times she wedged herself under branches and into fernfields I couldn't navigate certainly were part of what threw me off. In pulling her back, I may have lost my bearings (You really don't ever want to have to walk a dog on leash in places you can barely stand upright or crawl through.) But really, I'm the only one to blame.

A magazine interviewer once wrote that I was a “self-identified survivalist” -- a goof that made me laugh. Sure, I could weather a severe earthquake or storm in my own nest with my dried lentils, hand grinder, butane stove, and bottled water. But as far as Eric Rudolph-style “survivalism” ... well, I'm more the kind who'd die in my own backyard if I was locked out overnight. And today's experience brought that home better than ever.

So ... learn from my experiences. Familiar woods can get amazingly unfamiliar with just a few wrong steps. Guess I'd better dig out that compass I bought when I first moved out here (but give myself one more woodcrafty credit; I do know the declination in this area, so I can tell “north” from “north”). Guess it would be smart to carry that whistle and signal mirror I bought all those years ago, too. The signal mirror is probably of dubious use in dense woods, but it can't hurt to have it along. And maybe next time some outdoorsy group offers an orienteering class, it would be smart to take it.

And of course -- hold on a lot tighter to that leash tomorrow.

Posted by Claire @ 03:49 PM CST

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