Don’t Step in What the Bear Left. Part III

There was an awful quiet as I slowed and then stopped the car.

“Missed… what, exactly?”

“You know. The landing. I’m pretty sure we missed it back there. This doesn’t look right to me.”

I was having a hard time with this for several reasons. The first and most compelling was the fact that we had been driving in a strait line through a heavily wooded landscape, devoid of any landmarks. The view had been an unending parade of young trees and blackness. How this spot looked any different from any other spot we had seen since starting down the cut was beyond me. The other reason my right eye was starting to twitch lightly was that we were on an elevated road with zero maneuvering room and were towing a trailer. Turning around successfully was going to require concentration, skill, luck and a whole lot of colorful language.

Mountain Man looked around at the darkness again and decided that no, this was not the place. We needed to go back. This was going to either be my finest trailer driving hour or a total debacle. I did have some good experience of driving with a fifth wheel but I knew that driving in reverse for anything more than a few dozen feet was just begging for a spanking. The trailer was going to start to wander and then I’d try to counter it, making the car susceptible to falling off the road. We briefly discussed the possibility of detaching the trailer and then… what? If I did turn the car around, we’d just be facing our own trailer. Nope, there was only one real solution. I was going to have to spin the whole thing.

We drove a bit farther in search of a spot that afforded the lowest banking and the most space. A few minutes later, we came across the best we thought likely to be found. I put the car in reverse and started to crank the wheel, carefully backing up and feeling for the trailer slipping over the edge. There was no talking in the car at all. Mountain Man might be nutty some times, but he knows when you’re concentrating and kept a respectful silence other than air sucked between clenched teeth and occasional profanities from me. In the end, it took roughly seventeen hundred back and forth movements with minute wheel turns but… we did it. With less swearing than I expected and a lot of sweat, I managed to very slowly turn the whole thing around and keep the car on top of the road. The trailer had collected a good bit of brush, but was still intact and attached to the car and that was the important thing. We slowly, oh-so-slowly headed back down the cut in search of the mysterious landing that we’d some how missed on our journey down.

“There! That’s it!” My friend was pointing happily at a bit of blackness that I’d somehow overlooked. All it looked like to me was a spot where the trees weren’t so thick, but he was adamant. “I’m sure of it. Pull off here!”

Thankfully, I did notice that where he was pointing, the side of the railroad bed seemed to be flush with the land and I slowly brought the car to rest in a diminutive clearing. I’m glad that he spotted it because I didn’t until I’d actually parked on it. I grabbed my Colman keychain and we got out of the car and into the silence of the moonless night.

dark-woods

“There’s a path right over here somewhere. The cabin will be just down it. Let’s go!”

“Wait. It’s eleven o’clock, pitch black, we have no flashlights and we can’t even see the path. Why don’t we just put up our tents here and go find it in the morning?” It seemed like a logical decision to me, but I had never been here before either and therefore, no idea what was beyond the blackness of the trees right in front of me. My friend though, had and his explanation that the cabin was a grand total of seventy, maybe a hundred yards away seemed to take the wind out of my plan.

“It’s not hard to find at all. There’s only one path and it takes you right to the cabin. My dad and uncle are waiting there for us and might worry if we don’t show up. You could probably hit it with a stone form here! Hey! I bet they can even hear us!”

With that thought, Mountain Man cupped his hands on either side of his mouth and bellowed, “DAD! WE’RE HERE! CAN YOU HEAR ME” We waited for a reply but heard none. He was nonplussed. It wasn’t far and they were no doubt just sleeping. Yah, that’s it. Sleeping.

I protested a bit more and Mountain Man decided that come hell or high water, he was crashing in the cabin tonight. The prospect of being left behind at the car as the “party pooper” gnawed at me like an old woman’s Pomeranian and so, reluctantly, I grabbed my bedroll and held my little light above my head in an effort to see where the heck we were walking. Within fifty feet of the trailhead, we were lost.

For those of you who live in urban environments, you most likely haven’t experienced what “dark” really looks like all that often. With no moon and zero ambient light, you quite literally can’t see your hand in front of your face. There are no pools of light or sweeping beams from cars heading down the road. It’s just black. The only light comes from the stars and if you throw in a canopy of leaves, you don’t get that either. That’s how dark it was as we stumbled along off the unseen path and into the brush and small trees, my keychain provided just enough illumination for me to spot low branches inches before they gouged my eyes. Mountain Man was still confident though. I was starting to curse. Every few minutes, he’s stop, cup his hands in the guessed direction of the cabin and yell. As time passed and scratches accumulated, the inflection of Mountain Man’s calls started to change.

What had started out as a loud and self assured, “DAD!” started to morph into, “DAD? HEY, DAD?” and finally transformed into it’s final form: “DAAAAD?! DAAAAAAAAAAAD???!”

Sonofabitch! The branches were scratching us like they held a personal grudge, plus we had been discovered by the mosquitoes and they were eating us alive. To add the toping to the situational sundae, our tents had been left back at the car and there was no prospect of finding our way back at this point. Just about the time I was considering using my friend’s lifeless carcass as a shelter half, we heard a faint, “Hey? Is someone out there?”

Then, somewhere off between unseeable branches… a light! In the distance, the pinprick of light shone like a beacon. The two of us whooped and thrashed our way toward salvation. On the porch stood Mountain Man’s uncle, a lantern in one hand and a long gun in the other. We had made it! We were safe! After blundering around in the black woods, the cabin looked like the Four Seasons to us and we happily stepped inside and dropped our bedrolls. It was very late by now and we were scratched up, blinded by the light of one lantern and pooped. After a round of sleepy introductions, we grabbed our sleeping bags and got ready for a restful night’s sleep. A pity that it wasn’t on the menu. We really would have loved that. What we did get was a choice. We could either sweat out fifty percent of our bodily water content in an oven made of nylon and down or bleed to death from a thousand tiny bites, delivered on miniature, whining wings.

I picked the sweat lodge, Mountain Man picked death by bloodletting.

-Next installment soon.

Our Oldest Fear

As I sit on the couch in our living room, I can just make out a faint, sweet, tuneless singing floating down from Short Stack’s room. It’s past bed time. Actually, it’s WAY past bed time but the tune, though incomprehensible to my adult ears makes me smile and I’m deeply happy to hear it percolate throughout our small house. This did not start out as a good night.

The day was normal enough. It’s the weekend and that means that my folks are here. They don’t live near by, nor even in the same state, but about three years ago they bought a small vacation home very close to us and for our kids, it has meant that Grandma and Grandpa are never out of the picture for long. This has been a boon to all parties involved.

Though Lulu Belle is pretty new on the scene, she has already spent a few nights over there with us. Short Stack, on the other hand, has slept over sans Mon and Dad, quite a lot. In fact, he spends almost every Friday night there and sometimes Saturday night too. This gives us a chance to go back to taking care of one child for a change and though we always talk about how we don’t want to leave him there as we drive the short distance back to our own house, there’s no denying that it makes life way easier and provides us with a little respite from juggling two small children. It also give my Mom and Dad a chance to spend some magical time with It’s a good deal all the way around.

This time though, my folks are here for an extended stay. They will be around for a whole week including weekends. Short Stack had spent the last two nights there and my parents, fully embracing the grandparent life and the chance to keep a beloved child who now sleeps through the night, had offered to keep him sunday night as well. Action Girl and I had hemmed and hawed about this. She works late on Sunday night and eventually fobbed the decision of his slumber party off on me. I finally decided to fob the decision off on Short Stack. If he wanted to stay, then he could.

He did.

Like every other little kid, Short Stack likes routine. There’s not a lot of his life that he has direct control over and having an expected way for things to unfold day after day provided him with a sense of safety. At Grandma’s and Grandpa’s, he has a ritual bed time routine and they stick to it. Normally, all goes well. Normally.

Tonight, all went according to plan as usual and it looked like he’d be asleep in no time. I had stuck around while my Father put him to bed and chatted with Mom. So far, so good. My Dad went off to shower and our conversation dropped in volume to allow little kiddos to drift off to sleep. Then, after ten minutes, there was a strange cry. Mom and I looked at each other and she went up to investigate. Finding nothing the matter, she returned and we continued to talk. Another few minutes and then another strange cry, this time kind of panicky. I bolted up the stairs and went into the room. There he was, standing on his bed with arms out, practically leaping into my arms.

“What’s dat?” He pointed at the wall with an accusatory finger.

I looked and say nothing but wall. “What do you mean, buddy? What do you see?” I learned a long time ago to listen to him when he says he sees something. The kid has the eyes of an eagle and misses nothing.

“Up dare. What’s dat over the bed?!”

I looked again and it slowly came into view. A faint, odd shaped stripe went up the wall just above his bed. It was being thrown by the meager wattage of his night light. I tapped my finger on the spot and asked, “Is this what you mean? This stripe on the wall?”
“Yah. What is dat?”

I did my best to explain, but Short Stack was having none of it. When I pit him back in bed, he burst into tears. I did my best to talk him down from the edge and once things seemed to get back to normal, I headed back down. Almost immediately, the crying started again. This time, he made clear his wishes to be brought home. So, an hour after bedtime, he was buckled in, PJ’s and all, and we were heading towards his own bed.

All I can figure is that he got scared of the dark. All the way, as we drove home, he talked about it being dark out. As I listened, I thought that the dark was the most basic thing to fear. It’s the one thing that at some time in all our lives, has unnerved us. It had peen a part of man kind from the very beginning.

Not much has scared Short Stack yet. Thunder barely gets his notice. People, are just people to him and animals of all types are to be studies and puzzled over. In his scope of experience, there just isn’t much to be afraid of. That makes this night rather poignant. It marks the beginning of the fear of the unknown.

I knew it was coming since at some point, it comes to us all. I can remember being huddled under the covers in my own bed, sure that I wasn’t completely safe, though I could hear my parents breathing not more than a few dozen feet away, in their room. I think of all the times I walked home after dark and watched an approaching black hole in the string of street lights with trepidation. We tend to fear what we can’t see and darkness is our ultimate place of uncertainty.

I tucked him in his familiar bed and did my best to reassure him that he was home and safe. As an added comfort, I switched on his little planetarium, and happy little stars appeared all over the walls and celling, casting a friendly glow. A kiss on his head and down stairs I went to deal with getting Lulu Belle ready for her night as well. His singing has stopped now and at this point, his planetarium had clicked off of it’s own accord. It’s dark in the house and other than the glow of the computer screen, his night light is all that makes navigation around the various toys possible. I feel sorry that he get so scared tonight as inevitable as it eventually was. At least we can all understand why. It’s somewhere we’ve all been before.

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