Sunday, June 28, 2009


A few days ago I went for a walk in the woods and got lost.

It was late afternoon on a cloudy day, I thought I would just go for a walk to work up an appetite for supper. I chose to follow a trail that I hadn't been on in a while, I thought I would follow it back to the vault and then follow the edge of the vault back to the house.

The vault is a narrow valley cut into the basalt bedrock of the North Mountain. It has steep rock sides, anywhere from 20 to 50 feet high. The valley itself is only about 100 feet wide, it's kind of like a miniature rift valley. In a few places you can make your way down to the bottom, but for the most part the sides are steep cliffs only a rock climber might consider descending.

The land that my house is situated on is over 100 acres, mostly forest. The vault forms the eastern boundary of the property. What I didn't realize is that the trail I was following did not go to the vault but ran parallel to it. After awhile, not finding the vault, I thought I would head back. Somewhere along the way I took a wrong turn. I remember that there was a barbed wire fence which I thought was the southern boundary of the property (it wasn't) and at a certain point I found myself on the "wrong" side of that fence so I crossed back over. I think that is where I made my wrong turn.

At any rate, I walked a very long way, following various trails. I thought, I've never seen this trail before, I didn't know it was here. Then later I thought, boy, 100 acres sure is big! Then, I wondered if I was walking in circles, it seemed to me I was seeing the same places over again. And I still couldn't find the vault, or anything else familiar.

The odd thing is, I still thought I knew where I was, I did not think I was lost.

Then I saw a house.

I know all the buildings on the property, both occupied and abandoned, and this was not one of them. That scared me. All of a sudden I knew I was not where I thought I was.

It's a weird feeling, being lost. All of a sudden all bets are off. Nothing is as it should be, the familiar has suddenly become strange. And no amount of logical thinking will fix it. It's as if you've been transported from the known world to an unknown world by magic, and only magic is going to get you back. Or that's how it feels.

The house was on the edge of a field, there was a stack of fairly new firewood at one end of the field, and the field was partially mowed. The house was abandoned. But I was pretty sure this was a property on the road (how else would that field get mowed or that firewood stacked?) and that I could get to the road simply by crossing the field.

OK, this is the really weird part. After over an hour of wandering around in the woods and clearly getting totally turned around in the process, I thought, I don't want to cross someone else's property to get to the road. So I turned around and walked back into the woods!

I cannot believe I did that. What kind of twisted thinking is that?!?

I remembered that barbed wire fence and thought that if I could just get back to it, I could find my way home from there. Problem was, I had made several turns on different trails since then and it might be a bit difficult remembering where I had turned.

At any rate, after another half hour of wandering around in the woods and this time really walking in circles, I realized I had no chance at all of finding my way back where I came from and that I darn well better head back to that house before I got even more turned around. Fortunately I still was able to do that.

So, two hours after setting out, I emerged on the road and immediately knew where I was, a couple of kilometers down the road from the property where my house is. My shoes were so wet inside that they squished with every step.

Just before getting to the road, I briefly wondered which road it would be. I had my hopes pinned on the Harbour Road, but I thought that given how long I had been walking and how turned around I was, it could very well be the Black Hole Road (!) and I sincerely hoped it wasn't because that was going to be a really really long walk home. Black Hole is gravel, the Harbour Road is paved. I was never so glad to see pavement.

Today I told Ruth about my adventure and she pulled out an aerial photo of the area to try to trace my route. We were both amazed. She said it was a good thing I didn't get scared or panicky, she has had the experience of getting lost and panicky. I guess it took so long for me to figure out that I was lost, and when I finally did I just thought that being in an area bounded on four sides by roads, that eventually I had to hit a road. And I still had a couple of hours before dark.

Many years ago I got lost in the mountains near Vancouver in winter, at night, but I was with a couple of people so it didn't seem that scary. I remember when I realized we were lost that I started looking around to see where was a good place to build a snow house, there was several feet of snow on the ground and I thought we would make it through the night if we could just shelter under the snow. As it turned out that was not necessary, but I was more pissed off than scared.

The other thing was, there were lots of mosquitoes so I kept moving at a fair pace to stay ahead of them. It is really hard to think logically when you are feeling obliged to keep moving. I would have liked to stop and think about the situation, try to figure out a way to determine direction. However I am not sure I would have been able to do that without a compass.

But if I had been able to stop and think about it, I'm pretty sure I would not have turned back into the woods once I knew where the road was.

What a dumb move!


20th Century Woman said...

That's a scary story, well told. I have never been lost in the woods, only in big cities (New York, Birmingham, England) and that's scary too, though there are people. But if you are in the ghetto you may not want to interact with the people.

You knew there were roads. I just read a story in a book called "Coming into the Country" by John McPhee, about a man who was lost in the north Alaska wilderness in winter. You would really enjoy that if you haven't read it.

Zabetha said...

Hi 20CW

I think getting lost is getting lost, no matter where it is. I agree with you that it can be just as scary in a city as in the woods, maybe even more so, depending on what you feel you can or can't handle. Definitely some city environments are very scary!

I like John McPhee's writing, I don't think I've read that one, so I'll keep an eye out for it, thanks!

Barbara Anne said...

As Tolkein wrote, "Not all who wander are lost." But sometimes they are...!

Glad you found yourself safely. Will you perhaps take a compass with you next time you set out on a walk to work up an appetite?


June Calender said...

Very well told experience. Interesting how the mind works and you described your states of mind very well. I"m not sure I believe the idea that there are no accidents, but maybe there was a reason why you got lost just when you did. I'm glad you found you way before it got dark.