The Deep Woods

March 25, 2018
By Driggin BRONZE, MOUNT AIRY, Maryland
Driggin BRONZE, MOUNT AIRY, Maryland
1 article 0 photos 0 comments

As a Search and Rescue Officer who works for a national park that will remain unnamed, I really cannot risk being fired, I feel that it is my duty to warn everyone about the woods. Now I don’t mean the two acres of trees and brush behind your house. I am talking about the deep woods; miles away from civilization and so dense it seems the forest is in a perpetual state of dusk. Woods like these are mostly found today in national parks or nature reserves, at least in the United States. However, if you take a step back in time before Columbus and before the Vikings or the Chinese or whoever actually discovered the Americas; you would see a very different place. North America was a wilderness. The forests had had centuries to grow and stretched for hundreds of miles. Canopies with density like the Amazon Rainforest sat atop trees so tall they felt like skyscrapers. Now these forests were dark. A beam of sunlight that managed to battle through the canopy was a rare discovery.
    The Native Americans who inhabited North America knew these forests well. Their legends speak of them with respect and thankfulness, but an undertone of fear can be detected. Some legends speak of supernatural creatures. Sasquatch, better known as Bigfoot, is certainly the most well-known legend. Another creature who has seen some pop-culture attention is the Wendigo. The Wendigo is described as a supernatural humanoid that appears to be on the brink of starvation. Its bones look as if they will burst through its skin at any moment. The eyes are pushed deep into its emaciated head and covered with calluses. The Wendigo is said to have eaten those who stray too far into the woods without a purpose. My buddies and I have laughed at these stories over a campfire more times than I can count. Yet there is always an odd moment of silence when the laughter dies down. No one says a word, but we all know what we are thinking. The classic “what if” question can be haunting, and you don’t often fully consider the answer until you are in the situation; like in a forest ten miles away from the nearest road. Now of course you could just chalk up my story to paranoia and high-strung nerves, but I assure you my mental faculties were 101% functional.
    It was probably around midday in early September. That is always a busy time in the park, the trees are beautiful and the weather makes long hikes pleasant. My Senior Officer has just informed me that a group of hikers had reported that a large animal had been stalking them. My mind jumped to the most common answers: mountain lion, bear, and coyote. I also didn’t really believe the animal had been stalking them. It was more likely following the scent of their food or patrolling its territory. Nonetheless, I took the ATV and proceeded to drive 10 miles through mud and weeds until I reached the approximate location of the sighting. Now as a Search and Rescue Officer I had no duty that required me to capture and move the creature. My only job was to identify what it was and recommend what action should be taken, if any. As I turned off my ATV, so as to not frighten the animal, I made a mental note of the terrain. I was on a slight slope. Rock clusters speckled the forest floor. The sun was just about to dip over a mountain on the horizon. I probably only had an hour or two before total darkness; but being in the woods at night hasn’t bothered me since I was a trainee. You learn to overcome fears of darkness and nature pretty quickly in this line of work. As I made my way around a rather large outcropping of rock I noticed something odd lying in the dirt. It was a bloody bear trap. At first my heart throbbed with anger. Those poachers were back in the park again, and it seems they had taken home another trophy. Then I realized something quite peculiar; the trap was not clamped shut, and furthermore why had the poachers not taken the trap with them when they left? Something about the situation just put me on edge.
    I decided to have another look around. I noticed that there was actually a blood trail leading behind a large boulder. I peered around the boulder and saw a massive puddle of blood along with a large tan backpack. The trapping gear attached to the outside of the pack confirmed that it belonged to the poacher. Probably the one that laid the bear trap. Something was wrong though. I doubted the blood pile belonged to an animal. I would normally investigate the scene further but something was preventing me from getting closer. I could feel a deep pit open up in the bottom of my stomach and my throat began to feel tight as if I were about to vomit. I spun on my heels and proceeded at a brisk pace to my vehicle. There was a man-eater out here, and I wasn’t equipped to deal with it. I would go back to the Ranger Center and give my Senior Officer the news. I had no intentions of becoming the meal of a rabid bear or mountain lion. As I headed back to my ATV I heard the sound of dry leaves crunching behind me. I turned around, adrenaline began rushing through my veins. What I saw instead was appeared to be a grizzly bear on its hind legs. Bears don’t usually get onto their hind legs unless they are preparing to attack or protecting their territory; but this one was probably rabid. Who knows what it would do. This immediately put me into panic mode. All I had on me was my .38 revolver which I knew would be like shooting a NERF gun at the bear. My ATV was too far away to get on and drive away, so I knew there was only one option. I played dead. I just laid down on the ground with my hands over my head and prepared for the onslaught of teeth and claws. The attack never came however. What happened instead will haunt me until the day I die. A horrible stench enveloped me. It smelled like a skunk’s spray. For what felt like an eternity, I was alone with that smell. Then a massive rustling of leaves convinced me that my time had come. As I lay in a cowering ball on the ground, the stench growing stronger by the second, I thought about my life. Will my family ever find my body? How will they manage to get by? There were so many things that I wanted to tell them, I had so many regrets that I hadn’t even considered until now. These thoughts carried on for some time before I questioned why I was still alive. Maybe the bear had lost interest, or maybe it had simply decided not to attack. The forest was dead silent. There were no birds, I couldn’t even hear the soft scraping as leaves glided to the ground. At one point I wondered if I actually was alive. There was one thing that convinced me otherwise, that stench was still bearing down on me. I slowly turned my head to observe the surrounding woods. I saw the bear a couple yards away from me. It was still bipedal which shocked me. Then I noticed the head. There was no snout and no pointy ears. What I saw instead raised the hairs on my neck so high I thought they might fall off. It looked like a gorilla. I saw a prominent forehead, a short and broad nose, and VERY humanoid eyes, lips, and ears. I must have stared for at least two minutes before realizing the creature was staring right back at me.
    These next actions may seem foolish in retrospect, but the state of my head at that moment was to survive by any means necessary. I slowly reached down to my holster, flipped the safety cover back, and drew my measly revolver as I rolled over into a crouch. I must have emptied my entire cylinder in about two seconds. The noise was deafening in an odd way. It felt as if I was a little kid who knocked over the cookie jar while trying to sneak a cookie. It was a guilt-ridden, ominous noise. I had no time to ponder what I had done however, I didn’t even check to see if any of my shots had landed. I made a beeline to the ATV, started the engine, and flew through the woods faster than I ever had before. I knew that a rock or low tree branch could send me flying through the air and potentially wreck my ATV, but at that point I didn’t care. It was almost dark by the time I had returned to the Ranger Center. I was muddy and shaken but I was alive. When a fellow Ranger asked me what happened I told him I had crashed my ATV into a small rocky outcrop. All the teasing and harassment that I’ll receive from my co-workers for crashing my vehicle would pale in comparison to the reaction I would receive if I told them I had seen a Sasquatch in the woods. Needless to say, I didn’t get any sleep that night. The next few nights weren’t much better.
    That incident took place six months ago. I am still a Ranger at the park, I just always bring a partner with me and I am always on the lookout for anything that seems off. I still think about what happened to that poacher. I know that there is a family somewhere who is missing father or a wife who is missing her husband, and maybe my story will make its way to them. So that is my story. You can choose whether to believe it or not. I wouldn’t take any offense if you considered it nothing more than a misidentified bear or a total lie. At least I can finally clear my conscience though. It feels like I have been holding back a raging river and I could finally let it flow. There are things in the woods that the public doesn’t know about. People should be aware of what happens when you hike through the deep woods. You enter an ancient world. A world of Native American legends and unexplainable sightings. I hope this email will be put to good use; and be careful next time you go hiking.

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Poppop said...
on Apr. 5 at 3:28 pm
To be able to write this well at this author's age reveals a talent to not only admire but more importantly to encourage!
Amazingly well crafted! Congratulations!

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