Friday, January 04, 2008

Into The Wild

I spent part of my Christmas in Pagosa Springs, Colorado this year. A small part of that time was spent in the San Juan National Forest which surrounds the town. One afternoon we went on a sleigh ride south of town and another day for a hike north of town. The hike got me thinking.

On the day of the hike my husband drove us up to the parking area and we got out and walked about a mile up a country road and then stepped off onto a snowmobile trail that weaved through the trees. We walked deeper into the forest heading one direction then another whenever the trail we were on intersected with other trails. At one point we passed a tree that had the ribcage and spine of some animal, either a deer or elk, wedged between two lower branches. I have no idea how it got there but my dog Duke found it very interesting.

Finally we reached an open meadow where Duke left the trail and took off running across the deep snow. I ask my husband where Duke was going and he said he was probably heading to the dead elk he had found the day before. We stumbled after him and found him gnawing on a large femur bone that stuck up out of the snow at a slight angle. The femur was definitely connect to the rest of the elk body since Duke was trying very hard to pull the bone out of the snow without success.

Something about the bone sticking out of of the snow disturbed me. I think it was because this bone was the only thing visible in a sea of snow. Under all this snow laid the body of an animal. If the leg bone had not been standing up like an old sign post we would have had no idea that it was there.

I looked around me and realized that I had no idea just where we were and no idea which direction the parking area or our car lay. I had been blindly following my husband without keep track of were we were going or where we had been. If something happened to my husband, like an accident that left him unconscious or a heart attack, I would have been is a bad situation. I knew I could follow one of the trails and that whatever trail I picked would lead me back to the parking area or a house but how quickly that happened depended on which trail I picked. If I picked the wrong one I could end up wandering around until dark, which would have been life threatening.

Earlier in the week I had read a news story about a family that got lost for three days when the went into a forest to cut down a Christmas tree. At the time I wondered how someone could do something so stupid. Now I know.

When we go into a state forest we forget that we are in the wilderness. We think that since the area we are in has roads and parking areas we are still in civilization. Heck, I was in an area where my cellphone rang when my sister called me. The connection was so bad I could not hear her but it did ring. I was feeling safe when I really wasn't because of this and because my husband was with me and knew the way back to the car.

That ribcage and elk body were reminders that in the forest you are not safe unless you are prepared. That day being prepared meant being aware of where I was at all times. Something I failed to do. Robert Frost wrote a poem that starts with this line, The fog comes on little cat feet." In the wilderness the same thing can be said about death.

No comments: