Fear in the Woods

Photo of dark trees against a gray sky

So, here’s a tale of terror. I’m all right, y’all, but WHEW.

So I was walking in the woods yesterday, and on my way down from the mountain, I took a route I hadn’t taken before.

The path I followed became a dead end, and the route down the mountain became a slide down a mountain. There were lots of leaves and the slide was soft, so I wasn’t hurt by it, thankfully.

Periodically, there were footholds where I could stop my slide and stand for a minute and listen, and relax.

On one of these pauses, I became aware of a sound in the distance. The sound of movement in the dry leaves. A creature, somewhere out of sight, perhaps on the ridge across the ravine.

I stood absolutely still, holding my breath. The sound grew. Several somethings… or one large something… moving noisily through the leaves.

Not only did the sound of it grow, it grew … closer.

Whatever it was, it was not afraid of me.

I began to be afraid of it.

It was approaching.

There are bears in these woods. And cougars. Bobcats, coyotes, etc.

I carry a knife when I’m out in the woods alone. A hunting knife, on my belt, in easy quick reach. For emergencies like these.

I still couldn’t see what was coming, but whatever it was, it was not daunted by my presence. I drew a breath, and my knife.

All other sounds retreated. All I heard was my breath, the silence, and the sound of the approach.

I’ve read that if a cougar is stalking you, you will never see it. On the other hand, you probably wouldn’t hear it, either. So maybe not a cougar.

Could be hogs. Feral hogs roam the woods and are responsible for more injuries and deaths than most other wild animals in these parts. But they’d probably be talking to each other too, so maybe not.

A bear.

Earlier in the day, I had found evidence of a bear’s recent visit. I have a box of cremated dog remains at the top of Syble Summit, waiting for the day I remember to bring a screwdriver and open it to bury the ashes.

I had found the box several feet from where I’d left it, ripped and torn. Still intact, but deeply scarred by claws and teeth. Something large had wanted very badly to get into it.

There was no reason for a bear to want into a box of ashes, except that it smelled of human. And humans often leave tasty things in boxes. And the bear was hungry.

Hungry bears, habituated to humans, bears raising young (it’s that time of year!), will do things that un-hungry, non-habituated, non-raising-babies bears won’t do.

Things like stalk and kill humans.

There was a sudden movement straight ahead of me, a leap and a crunch of leaves as my antagonist made itself visible directly in front of me, at the base of a tree.

OMG.

OMGOMGOMGOMGOMGOMGOMOGOMGOMG

It was a squirrel.

A. Squirrel.

Let that sink in a sec.

Here’s what happened. The resident squirrels, unaccustomed to humans on their steep slopes, had gone quiet when I first appeared noisily sliding down their mountain. But as I stood quietly, some of those in the distance decided I was no threat, and went back to their foraging activities in the leaves.

Then some a little closer joined them. Then closer, and closer, and the longer I stood there, the better they all felt about it, and the more noisy (and close) they became.

Y’all.

A SQUIRREL.

To be fair, a lot of squirrels. I mean, a lot of squirrels, a lot of angry or rabid squirrels, could be dangerous, right? TERRIFYING. You’d have been scared too. Promise.

So. Anyway.

Just wanted to let you know that sometimes (maybe even most times) the thing we fear, the thing unseen as of yet, the uncertain thing. Sometimes it turns out not to be as big and scary as we thought.