Mark Maisel was the lead for Fridays night-op outing. It was a pretty non-descriptive area on the outer edge of the park with a history of vocalizations. Where we parked a small pond lay off to the side with marsh land and tall grass all around. Close by was a short ridge-line that loomed against the already dark sky. It was cold, wet, the grass was as tall as me, and an eerie fog had crept in hovering between us and the starry heavens. It was black-out DARK! Forget trying to see your hand in front of you, it wasn’t happening.
Venturing into this land in an area with a history of screams was starting to creep me out. Strange things lurk in tall grass. I started off with Sharon Lee to climb the ridge-line hoping to flush something out- but I didn’t end up there. She moved like a boss through the pricker bushes and heavy undergrowth looking for the path and I stayed on the flatland in the reeds with a small group of folks. I really didn’t want to tromp through all that to be honest. In hindsight though, it might have been a better idea. Want to know who can really tell a story? Mark Maisel can. What is not funny is that his stories are all witness reports from real people, with very personal accounts. He spoke on several things to look for, smell for, feel for while we’re (well, me at least) stood there freezing like a popsicle with soaking wet jeans, a jacket and a thermal cap. I was miserable. I didn’t know what to think. Then it was LIGHTS OUT! Oh my. Oh how dark it was.
It looked like a scene from a horror movie. You could actually see the fog as it rolled by, over you, through you like an insult. Distracted by the menacing fog, my thoughts were yanked back to what we were really doing here when Sharon Lee bellowed out an amazing call. It blasted through the fog and echoed off the opposing ridge. I was proud of that gal, it takes a certain set of lungs and precision to master a perfect yowl. I really appreciated those lungs! So, I felt a little better. It was a nice distraction.
We stood still, listening for a while. Standing there I caught a whiff of the most awful, putrid smell I’d experienced in my life. As a tenured urban ER/level 1 trauma nurse, I thought I’d smelled it all… but this was terrible. It lasted only a second. The hairs on my neck and arms stood on end. If it were a dead animal, that would of been one thing- but this was different and I’ll be doggone if no one else had the privilege to smell that. It didn’t really matter, I felt sick, I don’t like being creeped out by ninja random smells and I was through. I had to inform my whole group that I was ‘incredibly uncomfortable’ right at that moment. Why? Who knows, I was going to burst if I didn’t say something. I felt so dumb. Instead of these folks laughing at me, Maisel asks the youngest in the group, a 14 y/o, to walk into the tall grass about 50ft from us and just hang- oh, and to please mind the rivulets. Without a second thought, this young man goes off. Oh! What strength! I was incredulous. Well done! I’m cowering and this fella, 20 years my younger, shows no fear. Ugh… I silently wondered to myself, “Who is this Bea Mills? And when did she become a wimp?” Mortified would be the understatement of the year, and while this is happening, the stories continue.
You ever tune out and then tune back in on conversations just in time to hear the ‘good part’? Well, I happened to do just that. “… and a squatch grabbed his foot while he was sleeping in his tent… Found a print that next morning…” My brain came to a screeching halt. I think I stopped breathing for a minute. Seriously? I don’t watch horror movies for that very reason, life can be frightful enough… Geez. There was no sleep in my future tonight. None. I wanted to go home. I was done with Bigfoot and his shenanigans. I can barely handle a spider in my bedroom, never mind a squatch grabbing my toe in a tent. When the leaders decided to call it a night, I ran out of that swamp grass as fast as I could. Thanks Salt Fork, crush me again. Just let me get back to my tent first, I’ll deal with this new-found fear later. I was 12 hours into a weekend I had fretted over for months and wasn’t sure I was gonna make it another 36. Personally disastrous, awful, what the hell did I sign up for and what pity these poor people must have thinking who is this girl, and being as nice as pie.. I felt even worse.
Back at the camp, it took mere seconds to have a rolling, happy, warm fire. What a nice treat! The most amazing brownies still on the picnic table and a few folks hanging around discussing the evening. Humble pie is what I had. I’d made a fool of myself and no one really seemed to care. I’m not going home, I’m gonna sit by this incredible fire and dry my jeans.
What is it about a good fire that makes everything right with the world? It is the smell, the flames, the off tempo yet rhythmic crackling noise. As the night carried on into the now wee hours, I had the opportunity to hang with the Fathom Frontier duo, which was awesome. I’ve been talking back and forth to these guys for a little over a month, but hadn’t had the chance to look ’em in the eye. What genuinely cool guys these two are and I was thankful for the company. We spoke on all sorts of things, UFO’s, Bigfoots, the weekends upcoming shenanigans and whatnot’s. And then I asked them about me. I needed an outsiders insight to what had just happened to me, a third- person point of view, I suppose.
Alan summed it up beautifully, “you got pulled out of your comfort zone, that’s all”. And that was all, all I needed. Yes, perfect words. Thank you for normalizing what I already know to be an irrational fear, yet for some reason I absolutely can’t stop! Lots of people get freaked out in the woods, probably more so at night, and probably even more than that when your looking for a 9 foot tall Bigfoot to come sauntering up to you in the pitch black that smells really, really bad. That’s totally normal. 3am came and went and inevitably, the guys took to their sleep for an early morning. I sat there staring at the fire. Contemplating. Wondering. This was not what I had expected.