Nymph of the Wood
Copyright© 2012 by Lance Manne
After my stay at the B & B, I quickly returned to my normal routine. Work had suddenly picked up and I found myself once again absorbed in the process of dealing with clients and scheduling appointments. The vision of the woman in the boat frequently entered my mind as I went about my daily duties. It had all seemed so real. In fact, I wasn't so sure that it wasn't. No matter how hard I tried to relegate that experience to a dream, the vision continued to make its way into my deepest thoughts. I found my mind wandering back to that magical event, time and time again.
It wasn't until several weeks later that I was finally able to get away for a couple days of backpacking with my friend Troy. I completed all the packing and meal planning. All that Troy had to do was show up. We headed up north to do a section of a popular hiking trail that runs for about one hundred and fifty miles. I had completed several sections myself, on previous hikes, and my ultimate goal was to be able to walk the entire course.
On the drive up, I spotted a large snapping turtle as it attempted to cross the road. Knowing that it would probably be crushed by one of the huge trucks, I pulled the car off onto the shoulder and asked Troy to help it across. His response was, "No way, man." After trying unsuccessfully to get him to move and watching as two cars almost hit the turtle, I finally got out myself. As the turtle hissed at me and tried to claw me with his hind claws, I was finally able to pull him by his stout tail across the road to safety. All he did in a way of thanks was to hiss at me and hurry off into the brush.
Troy was laughing heartily when I returned to the car. "If I had my patrol car, I would have put on my lights and stopped the traffic until he crossed the road," he said, tears rolling down his cheeks.
As we continued on our way, we talked about work and our hobbies. I learned that Troy was involved with a group of guys that rode their bikes every night. He asked me if I might want to join up with them. He told me that they would ride in a cluster and everyone had to maintain the same speed. I told him that it didn't seem like something that I would like to do. I said that the bike I rode was a mountain bike. I made the comment that if I saw something interesting, I usually wanted to stop and investigate. He replied that the guys wouldn't allow that.
We parked the vehicle at the trailhead lot and began our weekend hike. Troy is one of my best friends and I find him very easy to get along with. He is usually very level headed and it takes quite a bit to get him worked up. If you ever get into a situation where you need back-up, Troy is the one that you want by your side. He stands about six foot three and has wide broad shoulders. His slim waist and proportioned body has always been a big asset to him, especially on the swim team in school. As far as I knew, he still held some of the speed records at our old high school.
My dog was so happy to be able to get out of the car and run around. We loaded up our packs and began our weekend hike. It took several attempts, but I was soon able to get the pack adjusted so that it didn't cut into my shoulders and rode nicely on my hips. After about a half mile, I began to adjust back into the swing of hiking.
We headed uphill for about three miles and eventually came out upon a high ledge. As I peered down, I saw a narrow lake nestled between sheer cliffs. The water sparkled as the sun reflected off the surface. Several people were fishing from shore. It was a beautiful little lake and I would have loved to explore it. Unfortunately, we had to continue moving if we wanted get a few miles of hiking in before the sun began to set.
The next object of interest we came to was a rushing creek. As we stood on the suspension bridge, looking over the creek, we were amazed by the power of the water. It crashed over the rocks and boulders as it made its way down the ravine. Clouds of spray moistened the moss that clung on the walls that lined the path of the rushing water. We stopped for a short break and enjoyed the beauty that was laid out before us.
Troy told me that it felt really good to be back in the woods and enjoying the wonders of nature. He was employed as a suburban police officer and he said that the last few months had been really difficult. He informed me that he was often busy dealing with a local gang of unruly teens. He said that he had to always be on his guard as to how he dealt with them. "If only they could enjoy the beauty of an experience like this. Maybe that would give them something different to concentrate their efforts on," he said. I glanced at Troy and saw a distant look in his eyes.
As we continued our walk, we appreciated how the scenery around us would continuously change. We might be walking along the banks of a river, then we would be high on a ridge, then we would walk through a marsh, and next we might be in a dark pine forest. The person who had laid out the trail had wished to discover all the most beautiful vistas. Because of that mindset, we found we were often hiking from the bottom of a valley, to the peak of a hill, and then back into a valley. This continuous exertion began taking its toll on our less experienced bodies.
As evening approached, we arrived at one of the designated campsites. Unfortunately, we found it to be occupied, so we continued on to the next site about a half mile away. That spot was on the shore of a small lake and we were happy when we saw that it provided us with a beautiful view.
Troy dropped his pack and said he wasn't going any further. I agreed with him and we sat for a few minutes, just to regain our strength. Next, we set about making camp and getting a fire going. I set up my small stove and prepared some soup while Troy made some sandwiches with the summer sausage I had brought along. We were both in fairly good shape so I had packed the food packs a little heavier than I normally might have.
After the soup was ready, I put the pot back on the stove and began to boil some water for our hot drinks. Troy had been sitting with his back up against a tree and he said he was not moving. I too had discovered that my body was quite exhausted. I discovered that I needed to force myself to complete the tasks that were required to be done. I quickly realized that I had been using some new muscles that normally didn't see much action.
Just as we getting ready to go to into the tent, I saw Bud run off into the woods. After a few mumbled words under my breath, I told Troy to go ahead and get ready for bed. I said that I would go and look for him myself. Troy responded with, "Fine with me," and I headed off down the trail.
After looking around for some time, I finally heard a dog barking off to my left. I saw that I would need to cross a swampy area if I wanted to quickly get to that point. I thought if I was careful, I would be able to make it safely across. I proceeded to hop from hummock to hummock and slowly made my way through the marsh. I could see a dog's footprint in the muck and knew that the crossing would have been much easier for him.
As I was nearing the solid ground, I suddenly felt my boot slip and then my foot began to be sucked up into the ooze. To regain my balance, my other foot had slipped and began to sink into the marsh also. At first I wasn't concerned, but then I began to realize that I couldn't pull my feet out because the suction was so great. I also discovered I was continuing to sink into the slime.
I looked around for something to grasp onto, but there was nothing within reach. I was now up to my knees and I could not move either foot. I called out for Troy, but remembered I was on the other side of a ridge and I doubted he could hear me.
My mind raced to a story I had read about in an outdoor magazine. A man had become stranded in a marshy area in Alaska. Rescue teams had brought in a helicopter in an attempt to pull him out by air. Much to their horror, the suction of the muck had been so great that they were afraid they would pull him apart. They finally had to lower another guy, who laid out flat on a large float, and dug away at the muck. When he gave the signal, the helicopter tried to pull him out. It took a great amount of effort, but they were finally able to rescue the man. I had often thought of how terrible it would have been if they had been forced to leave him to be sucked up by the marsh.
By this time I was up to my thighs. I had no idea of how much further I might sink or if I would eventually stop. If I did stop, I wondered how long it would take before someone would find me. I knew Bud would probably come, but I didn't see him being much help. I was some distance off the normal path and the darkness was closing in fast.
Looking around, I thought I noticed a dark shape high up in a tree. It was at that stage of the evening when the darkness begins to play tricks with your eyes. At first I thought it might be an eagle's nest. Then I saw the most unusual thing. I noticed a long slender vine, which had wound its way up the trunk of the tree, began to fall in my direction. The end of the vine landed just a few feet away from where I was trapped.
My initial thought was that it might be Troy who had climbed the tree and had thrown down the vine. When I later returned to camp, I found him sound asleep, so I knew it wasn't him.
By grabbing onto the vine, and digging away at the muck, I was finally able to free one leg. I laid that across the hummock and began digging away at the other leg. Eventually I was able to free that leg also. By lying flat and pulling on the vine, I eventually made my way back to dry land. No one came from the tree to greet me. The only noise I heard was the sounds of the night.
I slowly made my way back to camp, hoping that I would find Bud there. When I was just a short distance away, he finally joined me, wagging his tail to beat the band. It was evident that at least he had experienced a good time. When I arrived back at camp, I cleaned myself off in the lake and placed my clothes and boots by the fire to dry. Eventually, I was able to crawl into my sleeping bag, where I slept like a baby. Just before I drifted off, I heard Troy say, "Is everything alright?"
The next morning, when I told Troy what had happened, he apologized profusely. He said he had just been so tired that he couldn't stay awake. One thing that he said really stuck with me. He made this comment, "You must have a guardian angel watching over you." That statement rebounded through my head as we hiked that day. Who or what was the being that had thrown that vine down to me? Once again, I had encountered another extraordinary occurrence in nature. My growing list of strange and unusual events was becoming too large to ignore.
For breakfast, we ate the eggs that I had carefully packed so that they wouldn't break. Food always tastes so good when you are out in the wild. Biscuits, sausage, and coffee made for a very delightful beginning to the day. It didn't take us long to break camp and continue on our trek.