Monday, March 19, 2012

Famous Last Words: the Forest Incident

   So, a few weeks ago my ten-four-good-buddy M Half was visiting the farm. Somewhere between her remote office laptop work and conference calls, my multitudinous farm chores, and the need for us both to get cleaned up for another installment of our world famous book club which we affectionately call "Dinner Club With a Reading Problem," *take a deep breath* she and I decided to thrust ourselves into the quiet and solitude of the Pine Forest. We needed some Zen, you guys. We laid everything aside, found suitable footwear (okay, yes, I just kept my rubber boots on, whatever), and paced toward the green, threat-less edge of the wild. 

   Here's the thing. In hindsight I see our crossing of that gated threshold between the Lazy W and the Pine Forest a bit like the beginning of a good thriller movie. Neither of us knew it at the time, but we were about to make a few memories. Like, for real you guys. 

   Why haven't I written about this yet? Why now, almost a month late? Because it shook me to my core. My tree-climbing, childhood summers-in-the-country, horse whispering, ain't-skeeird core. I have spent the last few weeks digesting and coming to terms with what happened, what almost happened, and how it all came out in the wash. Plus, of course, M Half wrote about it last night and spicily bet everyone ten bucks I would follow suit today. So here we go. Here is my ten dollar story.

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I. The Setting:

   The forest was bright and friendly that afternoon. We passed by the abandoned and mostly demolished workshop where the owls eat their prey then threaded our way between wild roses, dormant cherry trees, and baby loblolly pines. This is a sparse expanse of the property, easily navigated. The pale prairie grasses crunched beneath our feet. Sunshine sliced through the leafy canopy and warmed us up pretty quickly. I remember having worn a light jacket but not needing it for long.

   We paused at a particularly open, grassy spot where the sunshine poured in freely, like liquid gold, and we dubbed it Yoga Meadow. Having just pressed through a half hour of yoga together back at the house, M Half and I were in the mood to commemorate the peacefulness. We may or may not have done some heavy-footed, jacket-impeded spontaneous poses right there in Yoga Meadow. Imagine Madonna in Vogue crossed awkwardly with Mary Catherine Gallagher from SNL.

II. Onward...

   We descended through the forest, which slopes downhill as you head either north or west away from the farm. Perhaps this is a good time to point out that I was eventually unsure of what direction we were headed. We slipped through dilapidated interior gates (but never crossed a fence, this is crucial information). We followed deer trails and marveled at unusual divets in the thick pine needle floor. We listened. We admired. We soaked up nature and shared a certain astonishment that so much wildness was so near home.

   I think I said something like, "You know, I used to let the kids hike in here all the time, and I've been here a hundred times alone, but never this deep. We've never been past that fence." M Half and I more or less agreed about the unlikelihood of getting lost so close to home. Which is to say that I arrogantly assured my friend there was no way we would ever get lost so close to home.

   People should keep track of the stupid things they say. 

   We hiked lower and lower, trading light, effortless conversation, touching the tree bark and watching the undergrowth increase dramatically with every step. I noticed my companion's delicacy, her wish to disturb as little as possible, even if it meant doing some crazy bends and dips. She is an experienced, cosmopolitan hiker who has navigated beautiful places in Colorado, Arizona, and Costa Rica, probably much more. I am just a wide eyed tromper who is happy enough to have explored hundreds of great places right here in Oklahoma plus a few in Louisiana. (I don't think a Mexico honeymoon counts for the purposes of this story.)

   While she was avoiding leaving even a footprint, I was collecting what few wildflowers I could find and snapping off slender tree branches so I could "force" them to bloom in a vase of water back home. I was raised to be respectful of nature but accept her wonderful gifts. This is not where the dissimilarity ended that day.


III. More Examples of How Differently We Experienced That Hike:


  • I climbed a tree that was designed specifically for climbing. It was perfect. She watched patiently from the ground and was apparently scripting in her head explanations to Handsome  about my inevitable mouth injuries. There were none, thanktheheavensabove.
  • Having been home when the storms hit a few years ago, I was relatively unfazed by our discovery of tornado debris still remaining in some of the trees. She seemed almost saddened by it, or at least stunned.
  • I must have looked behind us, over my shoulder, about ten thousand times, wondering over and over again why it suddenly got so quiet in there, while she just pressed confidently on the chosen path. No biggie, her posture seemed to say. We got this.
  • I was afraid. She was undisturbed. I would make it home in tears of panic. She would make it home in tears of laughter.

IV. Fast forward about 45 minutes, or maybe it was 3 hours: 

   At some point quite deep into the hike, my writerly friend and I discovered not only deer droppings but also cow patties. 

   Cow patties. In the forest.  The forest that is supposedly fenced off. Where no one lives. Where certainly no one keeps cows. A phantom cow. A phantom menace cow.
   
   Now, you guys, you know I have a buffalo who is as sweet as can be, and I know how to deal with him and horses and mean roosters and geese and everything, but cows are very different. 

V. My Fear of Cows Background: 

   When I was a little girl on one of those tromping expeditions with a few other young Okies (cousins), we were once viciously, rabidly, undeservedly chased and subsequently treed by a cow. This is one good reason to be a skilled tree climber, even past the age when most people find it reasonable to climb trees. You never know when a cow will chase you up one. It happened to us also on the edge of a forest, also in the quiet, like this day with M Half. My cousins and I were in that tree for over an hour, and it was flat out terrifying. I thought I was going to die. 

   The day of my hike with M Half, though, what did I actually say? Probably just, "Hey, look, I think that's a cow patty. Huh" Trying to act all cool. She could not have known that from that moment on my heart was beating as fast as a hummingbird and as violently as a bass drum. My bovine terror was the beginning of the end of our peaceful adventure. 

VI. Things declined rapidly from there:

   We approached a new boundary, another dry creek bed, which M Half seemed happy to cross, and I nearly had a panic attack. I wanted to be home in the worst way, not extending our distance! I could not see any buildings, could not hear any of our animals, not even Mia's heartsick moaning, could not even tell which direction was north, and I felt that prickly heat stabbing at my armpits. My eyes were glued open at maximum dilation. I was on high alert and was actively thanking God I had not brought my children on this misadventure. Because everyone knows that cows, vengeful creatures that they are, love to eat juicy, tender children.

   Then as we tried to elbow our way back from whence we came, the landmarks had shifted. We thought we were following the same trees and errant plastic milk crate, but then it was clear we were not. It was painfully clear to me and humorously clear to her that we were not headed back the same way we came.

   It took every ounce of self control I could muster to not break down into tears.  

   I was working my way through a maze of braided tree branches, desperate for a clear path and vowing to never again wander so far from home, when to my right appeared a low, thick, dome-topped structure. Kind of like a small hut. Kind of like a den. About two feet away from me. Where my boots were fairly stuck in the leaves, mud, and undergrowth.

   Oh my God, it's probably a wolverine den, I moaned inwardly as the panic mounted in my body. But audibly all I said was "Hey look, some kind of a den." Again, the undersell was pathetic and probably transparent.

   M Half, at that exact moment, said in her cheerful, experienced-hiker voice, "Hey do you have bears in Oklahoma?" 

   "WHAT?! Why would you SAY that?!" I was suddenly shrieking at her. I could no longer hide my terror. Without any warning my secret fears came spilling out all over my bewildered friend. I tore mercilessly through those low, braided branches, determined not to get caught by either a bear or a wolverine. Or a cow. Our pace increased tenfold as we searched for the red dirt road, for any dirt road, for any sign of civilization.

   Every twig that snapped beneath our feet was possibly a beast thirsty for our guts and marrow. When a rabbit darted in front of me I screamed bloody murder, a long, exaggerated wailing, pleading for my life kind of scream that unfortunately made M Half giggle uncontrollably.  It was, again, pathetic on my part, and it was also a recipe for our first real fight as friends. 

VII. The Attack:

   Out of nowhere appeared a coyote and a bobcat working in tandem to kill us. Or, according to M, they were two "smallish to medium sized" dogs, I am still not sure. They stopped on our path, looked us directly in the eyes, then turned on their murderous heels and ran in a straight line toward a property we had just noticed ourselves. It was hidden behind some trees, an unsavory and foreign looking place that was probably the home of a serial killer.

   M Half, still sweetly oblivious to the opposite effect being had by her attempts to calm me, said, "Don't worry, they're just going to tell their owner we're here..."

   "Are you serious? That is not good! People have guns and I think we're trespassing!!" I started jogging. Which is to say that I willingly left M Half to her own devices. Side note, when I told my Mom this part of the story about a week later, she scolded me for leaving my friend behind. Awesome.


VIII. Then the road: 

   We found it just as suddenly as we had discovered our desperation. The blessed, unpaved, tire tracks red dirt road which would prove to be either our salvation or the site of our final, ironic demise. I had the sensation of vertigo, where the actual length of the road stretched out elastically, bending and eluding my clumsy, rubber-booted feet. I would have felt more stable on a moving fun house floor.

   Within seconds, from that unfamiliar property behind us, a truck engine came to life. No, it roared to life. The driver who had turned its ignition key was clearly digging his foot deeply and repeatedly into the accelerator much the same way he wanted to dig a knife deep into my belly. Revving it wildly. I started to sprint, but M Half protested.


   "Just walk, calm down, it's okay..."
   
   I have these vague, disconnected memories of my level headed (if slightly naive) buddy trying in different ways to calm me down, to slow me down a bit, assuring me of things like never in the daylight, never so close to home, we're not even wearing bikinis, etc, etc. Part of me remembers her trying to touch my arm, to soothe me, and I tossed her off, brimming with bitter adrenaline, unwilling to be talked down from my ledge of hysteria.


IX. Home Sweet Home:

   Eventually, of course, we made it down that elastic length of red dirt and found the perpendicular paved road which would lead us home. Although I felt like we had hiked to the ends of the known world, the farm was in fact only about a quarter of a mile away. M Half was full on laughing by then, and I really can't blame her. But it was a while before I could sincerely join her in that levity.

   As we shoved open the front gate and walked sweatily and trembling up the driveway, she and I both noticed that the Lazy W animals were also on high alert. The horses were tense, ears pricked forward and eyes wide, the buffalo's tail was straight up in the air like an exclamation point, and the geese and guineas were screaming and flying around the yard, definitely panic stricken.

   We can only guess exactly why the barnyard was so steeped in chaos upon our return, but in my heart I know they felt my fear. They might have even heard me scream, realizing now how close to home we actually were when it happened. But we were safe. No serial killer or cow or coyote would dare battle our many loving animals for my life or that of my friend.

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   So that's my ten dollar story. Please compare it to M Half's to get an alternate version of the truth (rib-rib). And for goodness' sake, if you go on a hike, use breadcrumbs.

Hansel & Gretel Were Smart
xoxoxoxo

pinnable

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