Because I am nothing if not stubborn af, here I am with another dive into the details of my Counting to Five post!
At the start of SOLSC month, I wrote about getting lost in the woods when I was at a writing retreat upstate this past fall. In my list post, the fourth item on the list divulged that my lost-in-the-woods experience hadn’t, in fact, been the first. And so I wanted to write out the other times I’ve been lost in the woods … and what I’ve realized as I started working on this “fleshing out” of those times is that I’m going to need, as it were, a bigger boat. There’s too much to say for one post! In any case, let’s get into it.
For all the fact that I have a really great sense of direction, there has been more than one occasion when a forest has turned me around and tried to swallow me. My sense of direction isn’t legendary, but it’s strong — so strong that my family used to rely on it when I was a child. But clearly, forests are able to throw me off my bearings with ease.
Fox, my sister, was in the Girl Scouts when she was a kid. I’d never been a Girl Scout, but she had a lot of fun with it, and sometimes I went along as almost-adult supervision.
One year, there was a picnic planned in a gorgeous park in our ara, Thatcher Park. My family went there for picnics sometimes, too. I remember it as huge and untouched-seeming. Yes, there were picnic areas and trails, but mostly it seemed like a hilly forest with streams and waterfalls and only occasional breaks in the trees for the sun to stream through. I loved that park.¹
The Girl Scout picnic was in a tiny half-clearing in the woods. A bunch of girls, a handful of moms, and me. There was a ton of food, lots of games. At some point, someone suggested a hike on one of the trails, and about half of us went.
I don’t know where or how we lost the trail, only that we for-sure did lose it. I don’t remember when we realized we were lost. I think some of us knew we were lost before anyone said it out loud and made it real.
I was a teenager and not the other of any child in the group. I can’t imagine how hard it was for the moms to know we were lost and to remain calm, to have to act as though there was no real problem and that we were all on an adventure. I know I wasn’t worried, but I realize now that my confidence was ridiculous, based on my ignorance. I acknowledged that we were lost, but I thought it wouldn’t be too hard to find our way because we’d all been to Thatcher Park and it was a park, after all. How hard could it be to get un-lost? We’d have to wander a bit and we’d be fine.
Looking at Thatcher Park now — thank you, Google, a thing that didn’t exist back then in the wild and wooly pre-Internet days — I see how crazy my sense of calm was. Thatcher Park is aa few thousand acres big. We’d have had to wander much more than “a bit,” and that wandering wouldn’t seamlessly bring us to anything familiar. We were in trouble, but I didn’t know it. I’m betting the moms knew.
We walked in the woods a long time. The girls were pretty fine. At first, they surely didn’t know we weren’t on a real trail, but even if they knew, maybe they just trusted their mothers to get us where we were going. That’s usually a reasonable thing for a kid to be able to do. And even after we’d voiced our belief that we were lost, the girls were fine. For them, it really was an adventure. And I guess that’s a testament to how easy their lives were, how good a job their parents had done raising them to feel comfortable and safe in whatever environment they found themselves. That’s a gift. No one freaked out, no one cried. They stayed buoyant and game, kept marching along with a clear sense that we’d be fine. And that was a gift to the moms. I kind of love that, thinking about it now. It impresses me. Of course, maybe they just had the same false sense of safety, I had in that moment, believing Thatcher Park to be some docile little postage-stamp-sized park.
After we’d been hiking a LONG time, we came out of the trees into a sunny clearing full of some beekeeper’s hives. I’d never seen an apiary before, but somehow I knew what the hives were, knew to tell the kids not to open them or mess with them.² I thought it was cool to just suddenly come across a little colony of beehives.
Past the bees was a road and a choice — walk right or walk left? How were we supposed to decide? We chose to go left. Maybe either direction would eventually have gotten us back to the rest of the troop. Maybe turning right would have gotten us there faster. We’ll never know. What we do know is that the road eventually brought us to a Park entrance and that entrance eventually brought us back to our group.
And the girls had had it right — it was an adventure. They had a lot of fun telling and retelling the story of our being lost, of finding the beehive nation, of the LONG hike on the road. I’m sure the moms were hugely relieved … and maybe treated themselves to hot toddies when they got home that night!
That experience of being lost was quite different from my experience in the finger lakes, the one I wrote about that inspired this post. At no point was I afraid when I was with the Scouts, and I’d definitely been freaked out last fall. And sure, that could be because I wasn’t alone when I was with the Scouts. And also yes, I had my completely ill-informed idea of the size of the park. But also because woods just weren’t scary to me then. I was in the woods a lot growing up. It was an entirely familiar experience for me, and being scared wouldn’t have occurred to me.
Thinking about my sister and her friends’ calmness when we were lost and about my own childhood ease with being in the woods reminds me of being maybe seven or eight and off at summer camp, hiking to John’s Brook. There were two counselors with our gang of kids as there always were on trips. In our eyes, they were adults, but they could easily have been only 18 or 19 years old.
During our hike out to the water, we came to a cleared space that was full of men with motorcycles. I remember being very excited by all the bikes, as were my friends — perhaps this is where my desire to have a Harley was born? — and I remember that the men were kind of … not warm-and-fuzzy looking. With their sleeveless leather vests, their tattooed arms, their ZZ Top beards, their long hair and sunglasses, they were like a caricature of a motorcycle gang. I mean, they were a gang, but when I think about them now, I think how “out of central casting” they were.
I wonder what our counselors — two young women alone in the woods with a bunch of kids — were thinking during those moments we spent with those men. Some of us kids asked to sit on the bikes and were lifted up and plopped down in the big saddles. We were having a great time. What terrors could have been in the minds of our chaperones? And, even once we continued on our hike, would those terrors have subsided? We were on our way to stay overnight in a lean-to by the water. Were the counselors freaking out all night, sitting watch over our oblivious heads?
The woods, y’all. You never know what’s going to happen out there!
¹ Okay, so I looked it up so I could insert that link and a) it’s still there, thank goodness! b) it’s so much bigger than I’d ever realized, c) it’s not quite as trees-only as it is in my memory, and d) it’s just as beautiful as ever.
² Yes, I could have seen a picture somewhere, but it’s much more likely that I knew about beekeeping because of Mildred, my biology teacher/summer camp nature counselor aunt. Mildred was absolutely someone who would have talked about beekeeping and shown me how manmade hives work.
It’s March, which means it’s time for the
13th annual Slice of Life Story Challenge!
Curious? Head on over to Two Writing Teachers
and see what the rest of this year’s slicers are up to!