28 July 2006
“Being lost” is one of those terms that is self-defined. For most people, I think “being lost” is taking the wrong turn in their car and not knowing specifically where they are for a moment, a minute or perhaps even an hour. And what is the feeling of “being lost” anyway? Anxiety? Fear? A combination of emotions, all of which do not “feel” good?
For me, not knowing specifically where I am traveling in a car presents no feelings of “being lost.” As a kid, my dad, a hunter and lover of the woods, would often take my brother and me into the country and simply turn left or right at any old, unmarked road, just to see where it led. We never had a map and never got lost as, although my dad never said it, he firmly believed and proved it to me, that “all roads led to Rome.” Just follow any road long enough and you will come to some junction you know or recognize and in the mean time you have explored and learned new territory.
I however, have experienced “being lost” one time and did not like it at all.
Years ago, I was hunting deer with my dad and his brothers and early the first morning of deer season, I headed out of camp first onto my dad’s property but with the full intentions of making my way into the back country of the National Forest.
As always, the journey began before dawn and was always a slow one, walking quietly, stopping, looking and listening for sign of deer and then moving on again, repeating the stop and go process over and over again.
As dawn broke, I had made my way off my dad’s property and into the National Forest but paid no attention to the fact that it was a completely overcast day. It did not look like rain and so what did I care.
Perhaps at about 2pm, I finally got on top of one ridge, which was totally worthless for hunting deer as the underbrush was so thick I would have never seen a deer if it was laying at my feet only a yard away. But it was then I realized, looking out on thousands of acres of forest in all directions and not seeing any roads, houses, signal towers or any man-made structures, that I was not sure how I had gotten here and how to get back to camp. With the sky overcast, I had no sun to guide me and when I tried the old Boy Scout’s “moss grows on the North side of the tree” orientation trick, every tree I could see had moss growing on one side or the other with no clear and obvious North-only side.
What to do? It was 2pm now and I was lost. If I went in the wrong direction, I would only embed myself deeper and deeper in the National Forest and what an embarrassment for my dad and me. The thought of a search party having to be sent out to find me totally revolted me. I was not afraid about spending the night in the woods alone as I had done that before, or that if it began to rain, I would get soaking, miserably wet, I could endure that, but a search party? I would never live it down. My dad and his brothers would never let me forget it and I just could not have that.
Sit still and wait for help? Could, but not an option. I got myself into this and was going to get myself out.
And so, I closed my eyes and began to listen for all I was worth. Could I hear trucks or cars on a highway someplace? Our camp was just off the main road in the area and although not a well traveled road, logging trucks did use it and roared going down or up the grade by the camp. If I could only hear the road and make out its direction, I could slowly make my way to some road, at least.
Nothing. Not a sound other than some birds moving ground leaves looking for a meal.
Ok, have to move some and try again but in what direction? A quick look around revealed pretty much the same terrain in all directions and so that was not a clue and I had paid no attention as I had made my way to this, now lost, spot. “Doesn’t matter,” I said, “have to try something.” And so, I moved 20 feet in one direction and again, closed my eyes and listened for road traffic. Nothing.
Again, I moved but this time maybe 50 feet. Listen. Perhaps something. Perhaps something off in one direction, clearly one direction but was I sure? I did not move and continued to listen. 5 minutes must have gone by then I heard the faint sound of a car moving in the direction I had gotten via my ears.
Ok, might not be the right road, but at least a road and so I move 100 feet in the direction of what I thought was the road and stopped again. Nothing. I waited at least 30 minutes and nothing. Either I moved in the wrong direction or there has been no traffic in a while. “Wait,” I told myself as a light rain began to fall. “Great, just great,” I actually said out load. “Hey, what about yelling?” perhaps there is some other hunter in the woods nearby who knows where we are. So, I yell and yell but nothing. Crap. Going to be dark in several hours and dad and brothers are going to start worry at dark.
I decide to move 100 yards in the direction of the last car or truck sound and once in place, I quiet myself and begin to listen again. This time, clearly a truck making his way up the grade and slowly and if I hurry, I can move close enough to perhaps see something or at least know I am going in the right direction. So I head out, turning my head this way and that to make sure I have a bead on the truck sound and the sound becomes louder and louder although still only a murmur in the forest.
The light rain becomes a drizzle, making it harder to hear anything and then the truck is gone. Go on without sound as a guide? Stand pat and wait for another car or truck? Shit on being lost.
I look around, hoping to notice, recognize, anything I might have seen on my way up into the National Forest but everything looks alike. The downed, rotting tree, the rock outcropping, the rain-washed gully, the squirrels nest, here and there.
Another truck and this time, even louder, perhaps no more than 2 or 3 miles away. Got a bead, direction now, and off I go. Deer hunting is gone from my mind, only getting back to camp before dark. If a deer popped out in front of me, I would not shoot it as how would I get it out of this high place anyway?
I begin to find an edge to the ridge I have been up on top off and now the terrain seems all downhill like the terrain I climbed early in the morning. Listening again, I can make out the sound of a car on a road. Definitely a car this time, which means I am getting closer and closer.
Down the ridge I go and then up a small rise and then down again, rain falling harder and harder now and I pulling my collar up around my neck and trying the shelter my rife the best I can.
Then another car and a truck almost on its ass, going down the road and it is not far away now at all. My heart begins to lift. No rescue mission for me, no embarrassment to my dad and his brothers. Won’t even have to tell the tale. “Getting lost”, no Stultz has ever been lost and ever will be lost, some sort of Stultz club motto, I got told in some secret handshake a long time ago.
Then, through the trees, I can see a road. There are no cars and I am not sure what road it is but it is a road and all I have to do is get there and I am home, I know it.
Yep, down the final bank to the pavement and I look up the road and down the road. Is this the road where the camp is located or not? If so, is the camp, up the road or down? Not a clue in the fading light and steady drizzle. Well, easier to walk down that up and heads\tails kind of decision anyway, so I begin walking down the road looking for anything familiar.
Maybe I go 100 yards when my dad comes by in his old Army jeep. “See anything?”, he asks me as I climb in the front seat. “Nope and I went way back up on top. You see anything?" I say, looking straight ahead through the rain splattered windshield. “Nope” is all he says.
We ride along for several minutes without another word between us and then I see the turnoff to our camp and I rejoice as I was on the right road. Good! He has not been out searching for me. And then just before my dad makes the turn onto the camp road, he turns his head, stares straight at me with this sly grin and says, “Dam near came to getting lost today.” I did not say a word.
To this day, I do not know how he knew.