The Picnic

Trees surrounded me, stifling the atmosphere and suffocating the ground with silent shadows.  Trees crushed in on all sides, from all directions.  Gray-barked firs, brown hemlocks and bushy cedar trees hemmed me in and barred my way.  No matter where I looked, I could see only trees.

 

It was already late afternoon and time to leave the forest, but I had no idea which way to leave.  I had lost my compass hours before and my sense of direction had been stripped from me by the maze of trees, streams, ridges and draws.  My feet were infected with large blisters, courtesy of the new boots I was wearing for the first time. I quickened my pace and limped in a direction that hopefully would lead me to a road.

An unseen tree root reached up from the ground and snared one of my new boots.  I scrambled to maintain my balance and instinctively reached out for any branch that might aid me.  Fortunately, my hand touched just such a branch and I immediately seized hold of it.  Unfortunately, the limb belonged to a devil’s club and hundreds of tiny, sharp spikes embedded themselves into my skin.  No one heard my yelp of pain as I released my hold of the limb and continued my headlong, sprawling journey down the slope.

Fortunately after just ten more feet of skittering across dead limbs and rocks, I found myself wedged breathless against a stout vine maple bush.  Unfortunately this vine maple also proved to be home to an active nest of yellow jackets.  The insects were surprised and disturbed by my unexpected arrival and rushed out to greet me en masse.  After three red-hot shafts of pain pierced my backside, I was motivated to resume my descent down the slope.

My stumbling slide continued as I ricocheted off more vine maple limbs.  I rolled to another stop and listened for the sound of agitated bugs.  Hearing none, I assumed I was safe for the moment and sat on the ground to catch my breath and nurse my wounds.  Only then was I aware of the gently falling rain.

I was already lost in the forest.  My new boots were inflicting a number of serious blisters on my feet.  My hand was on fire from the spines of the devil’s club; yellow jackets had said hello to me three painful times; and I was just about to get very wet.  As though that were not bad enough, it was also Friday afternoon.

The rain soaked through my shirt, as I sat there in the forest wondering out loud, Why me? Why me?  It was then I remembered the envious words of those folks who worked inside our sawmill each day.  They often teased me about my “tough” forestry job, riding around in the forest all day, having a picnic in the woods while enjoying the fresh air and warm sunshine.  I viciously slapped at one of the numerous flies and mosquitoes that were circling my body looking for their own picnic in the woods.

I struggled to my feet, as a new sound greeted my ears.  It was not the buzz of angry insects but a low growl that came from something large and ominous.  I instantly deduced that, although I was lost, I was not alone.  I moved slowly until my eyes locked on another pair of dark eyes staring at me.  A black bear was just 25 feet away; it was time for me to be moving on.

I eased myself away from the bear, retreating in a direction that did not make much difference since I was lost anyhow.  Mrs. Bear--I am sure it was a sow with cubs--continued her low, menacing growl as I increased the distance between us.  I slipped behind a screen of trees and decided a fast trot would improve my margin of safety.

It wasn't long till my boots found a gravel logging road.  I did not recognize the road but I knew it must lead somewhere.  For an hour in the rain and gathering dusk while I swatted flies and mosquitoes, I hiked down the road until I recognized a road junction.  It probably wasn't more than a four-mile hike back up the other road to my awaiting pickup truck.  In the dim twilight I checked my watch and was comforted to know that I could now officially “Seize the Weekend!” as soon as I  found my truck.

Yep, just a picnic in the woods every day, visiting trees and listening to chirping birds, and the bears and the bees, and the devil’s club and the vine maple.  While the rain trickled down my neck, I thought how wonderful a nice dry sawmill job might have been.

About Mickey Bellman

Mickey has endured six decades on this earth, five of which have included freelance writing, during which four decades were spent in the woods as a full-time forester, and three decades have been growing Christmas trees and Golden Retrievers, while working two decades part-time at a winery, and the last decade as a forestry consultant.