Making It Out in Time

by Mary Padilla

Really believing that you might be lost in the woods when the sun is going down is frightening. When you’re unsure of the trail as it becomes rapidly more difficult to discern the way, you realize that the chance of emerging before darkness is becoming exponentially less likely by the minute. Not only does it get much colder in the mountains after sundown, but that’s when the bears come out. And there’s no metal campground strongbox in the middle of the woods in which to stow your food overnight. It’s all in your backpack, and you’d better not discard it if you might be lost out there for a while. But those sealed packets won’t seriously stand in the way of detection by an animal whose sense of smell is as keen as its sight is poor. And bears are always hungry. Your rapidly increasing anxiety bodes no good. Whatever chance you have of getting out to safety soon depends on calmly attending to clues: Which way is the stream flowing so you can follow it out and down? Does the waning light making its way through the canopy line up with the moss on the trees as a compass? Can you spot any trial blazes on their trunks or the boulders? The birds are falling silent now as it darkens, so there could be a gradient of noises from civilization audible over the increasingly loud and rapid beating of your heart. Was that the sound of other hikers, or road noise…or something else? Can you recognize any landmarks you passed on the way in before it gets too dark to see any more? Is that the bolder that was next to the trailhead up ahead…or could it be the profile of an unmoving large animal?

Since joining the LP2 several years ago, Mary has been trying new things, like essay writing.