Friday, October 1, 2010
The Place Where No One Was
The Cherokee National Forest lends itself well as a place of retreat. Not as crowded as the nearby Great Smokey National Park one can head back into the wilderness and not see another person for days, especially during the weeks after the summer vacation season has ended. It was my third day of hiking the backcountry and I had not seen another human being the entire time.
This late September morning had emerged from a briskly cool night and now the midmorning sun filtering through the trees was beginning to warm the air. In the weeks to come the leaves would begin to turn to fire, then the fire would fade and a skeletal forest would stand looking cold and dead. But for now Indian summer lingered.
Following the trace of one of the many old logging roads that weave through the Cherokee, I surmised that I would probably be nearing the North Carolina border by evening if I maintained my present pace. Not that it mattered. I wasn't going anywhere other than to wherever it was I was going. I was just walking and just thinking and just being away.
As I walked in thoughts, I detected an odd musky animal-like smell. Cautiously I followed the emanation of the odor. I came to a place beside a broad shallow stream which whispered and gurgled to whomever who would listen. Sunlight glinted on the clear water. There beside the stream was a large furry mass.
Drawing cautiously closer lest I frighten a resting animal that could attack me, I watched carefully. My heart pounded as my breathing nearly stopped. Seeing no movement from the beast I very quietly inched forward. The animal was obviously dead.
I warily circled the carcass, which looked like it had only recently died. It was not a bear like I initially had thought. And it was not like any other animal I had ever seen. I guessed that it was probably nearly seven foot in height and perhaps it might have weighed three hundred pounds or so. It had a very human form, but was totally covered in grayish brown bristly fur.
It was not like any primate that I had ever seen. And though I was certain that it was not an ape, I also knew it was not a man. But its face--its face was so peaceful, so beneficent that I wanted him to be alive. I wanted him to be here with me to impart a secret wisdom known only to this being from the mountain forest. A sense of deep sadness welled from within me and rested on my shoulders and in my chest as my vision blurred from my watery eyes.
Recomposing myself, I took a deep breath and realized I had found a Sasquatch--the creature of legend sometimes known as Bigfoot. I had made a truly amazing discovery and I needed to tell somebody. I lumbered back up to trail with my backpack feeling like the weight of a millenium of sorrows and regrets. I was not sure where the nearest outpost of civilization was, but even at my fastest pace it would take at least a full day of walking to get back to where I had started. This day was now half gone.
Realizing that I needed to somehow mark this spot so I could find it on my return, I looked around for a landmark. Nothing looked much different than anything else that I had been seeing for two days. Gathering stones from the river would have taken several trips and used up precious time.
I unstrapped my backpack to find something to hang on a tree. I decided upon an aluminum cook pan which I was able to hang from the stub of a tree branch. The pan would hold up and not be likely to be destroyed or carried off by animals. Satisfied that the site was marked, I gathered up my pack and began walking back to where I had started.
I had only walked a short distance when I stopped. With my eyes closed, my head fell. I had to go back. I began to feel uncertain and would not want to come back to find nothing. I had to be sure of what I saw. I returned to where I had marked the tree with the pan.
I retraced my way back to the place where I had found the Sasquatch. Staring intently groundward I came to where the body had been. My shoulders fell as I expelled a deep sigh. A tangle of brush and vegetation lay in the spot where I could have sworn I saw the corpse with the face of an angel. How could I have thought that I had seen what I thought I had seen?
My contemplation was interrupted by a splashing sound from the stream. I looked up to see a procession of the hirsute creatures climbing onto the opposite stream bank carrying the remains of the fallen Sasquatch that I had seen. Trailing behind was a smaller version of the strange beings. A child creature turned to me and gazed innocently, slowly cocking its head with a quizzical expression. We momentarily locked eyes and the thing seemed to smile. It then turned and followed the others disappearing into the woods on the other side.
I stood in wonderment as my skin tingled. The stream flowed and the sunlight sparkled on the passing waters. There was only the sound of the watery flow until a sudden whoosh passed overhead through the trees as though an immeasurable spirit had passed over the place and then left.
A lone cloud briefly obscured the sun, casting a landscape-devouring shadow. I made my way back to the road and removed my aluminum pan from the tree and put it back into my pack. I walked at a steady pace, stopping to sleep when darkness came, then wakening with first light to continue on to the place where I had parked my van in the campground where no one was camped, which was next to the picnic area where no one was picnicking, and I left the National Forest where no one was except for me. And then I was gone as well.