Last week, I wrote about my experience of being down in the National Forest in that huge wilderness on the Ochlocknee River; it was in the ’70s about thirty miles west of Tallahassee, Florida. I spent many incredible days experiencing a world that has pretty much been the same for the last many millions of years, yes millions of years. It’s incredible to just walk through this pristine, fantastic world that very few humans have touched. There were no roads or trails where we were, we had to take a boat upriver to get to it and the only land we were allowed to hunt on was private land adjacent to the wilderness.

Keith, an almost lifelong friend of mine, God rest his soul, was a very wise person, knew in depth what I’d been through the past five years, and decided I needed to be introduced to the hunting, fishing, and camping experience out in the wilderness, he was definitely right. It tuned out though that hunting held absolutely no attraction for me but I absolutely loved exploring the untamed wilderness and I also really enjoyed fishing.

On Sunday morning, I woke up and decided I was going to explore a new area I hadn’t been in yet and I went too far out and got lost. It’s easy for an amateur to get lost in a big wilderness so Keith had schooled me pretty carefully, but in my excitement, I forgot my compass. When you’re lost in a wilderness where there are no roads or marked trails, to the inexperienced or even the experience hiker every direction looks the same, it’s totally baffling.

When I finally had to admit to myself that I was definitely lost, I immediately felt a deep fear and dread, I felt an awful detachment from the world; suddenly, I knew nothing, I had nothing and all my confidence just evaporated like a strong spirit leaving me and all certainty in knowing who I was and where I belonged just vanished. I had to sit down and talk to myself and calm myself. it was frightening to admit that without some tools, some instruments, some knowledge, and know-how I could disappear from the world and the people I’ve known my whole life, I recalled that that has happened to many people………. It’s very hard for a novice to get centered and start using his brain to remember clues, find some bearing, and find his way home. Being lost is a horrible feeling. I’ve hitchhiked all over this country and never felt as lost as I did that day in the wilderness. So, not even having a watch, the first thing I did was to start studying the sun and the trees, something about the moss growing on the north side of a tree, I knew I could do this, I had hope, and I prayed

The sun was practically down, and my pulse was rising when I began to recognize I was in the general area of the camp, thank God, I said to myself, but just as I was feeling confident about where I was, I heard a growl, not a loud growl but a very disturbing growl up ahead and off in a thicker dark area of where I was going. It wasn’t an intense growl, but a growl from the throat of a large beast, not a dog, not even a big dog. I stopped dead still and silent. I waited, feeling my whole body and mind tensed up to a high degree. My head was turning like it was on a swivel, I couldn’t see anything; it was just me and a highly charged silence and it was getting darker every minute.

With a big jolt to my nervous system, I heard it again, I jumped, then squatted down just as a blood-curdling scream pierced my brain from one ear through to the other like a sharp needle. I almost swallowed my tongue. My throat and chest ceased up frighteningly tight, my heart desperately pounding

Oh my God, I choked back a gasp. I went to my knees as another piercing scream like a bloody combination of a woman and a young pig raised every hair on my body; something was being murdered and I clutched my shotgun tighter and darkness was closing in heavier and heavier. The camp couldn’t be too far ahead, my mind was spinning, what to do? what to do? I waited, huffing for breath like a desperate, frightened dog; getting darker, I got to get back to camp. Keith will have a fire going.

I told myself I got to move, I can’t stay here, and even stiff and tense with fear I was still shaking. My mind was jumping from thought to thought; what is this thing? I can’t stay hidden here behind this bush, that thing can smell me, it can see in the dark but I can’t. I got to move. Then shockingly, something was moving my body. I wasn’t moving my arms or legs, but my body was moving forward very slowly. My god, my brain had taken over on its own and was very, very slowly moving me forward, creeping toward the camp. I was hardly breathing, maybe once a minute.

I heard another sound like threshing and muffled grunts, but I kept creeping. I kept repeating to myself, I’ve got to keep moving, I’ve got to keep moving I can’t spend the night in the pitch black of these woods, I got to keep moving. Whatever this animal is, Bear, panther, or whatever it can see in the dark, I can’t hide from it, it can smell me, see me. Keep moving, Jack, just keep moving.

When I finally got to camp, Keith had a beautiful, safe fire going and a big pot of squirrel stew. I was exhausted from my ordeal but made myself set down and eat, “Where you been so long” Keith said? “I got lost,” I said over a mouth full of stew. I didn’t look at his face but I knew he was looking at me. and went to bed.