In my hunting days, I was headwaiter at a seafood restaurant in a little resort town in the California’s Eastern Sierra mountains. Hunting season had opened several days before, but I’d had to work every day. This was my last evening shift before I had a couple of days off, and I was ready to go.
I had my new Ruger .30-06 rifle with a 7-power scope. I had my pack and my sleeping bag and two days worth of camp food. And I had an intimate knowledge of miles and miles of backcountry trails that would lead me into good hunting country, far away from the lazy, clumsy road-hunters who swarmed the hills every fall.
I had to work until 9 p.m., but the almost-full moon was coming up soon after, and I thought I could get in a good couple of hours hiking under its light. The high-country moon is brilliant enough to read by when full, and it would light the mountain trails to near-daylight certainty.
I hiked in the starlit dark for half an hour, then welcomed the moon like a sunrise on the rocky trails. I trekked on for another hour, then started thinking about pitching camp for the few hours before dawn.
And found myself reluctant to stop. Thinking about it blithely in the previous days, I saw no problem with the plan. But now that I was faced with it, I realized that I had never actually camped out by myself in the wilderness. And I was … afraid.
I traveled onward in the light of the still-rising moon. Another hour passed and it was well past midnight before I convinced myself to at least stop and think about it.
I took off my pack and began laying out my camp with slow, overly careful precision. My movements were mechanical, my body running itself while my mind, weighted with the fear, flowed like glaciers. All my attention was routed through my ears, listening for the slightest suspicious noise. Though I was ravenously hungry, I didn’t want to use my little butane stove, because to do that would mean making a light, which would make me vulnerable by diminishing my night-sight. I rolled out my sleeping bag and lay down in it like a death-row inmate sitting in that last chair, hearing each tooth click as I slooooowly raised the zipper.
I lay like a statue for another hour, while the moon moved across the sky and finally buried its light in the trees overhead. Finally my own body rejected the fear: tiredness overcame frozen panic and I finally asked myself, “What the heck am I afraid of?”
I listed them. Black bears. Mountain lions. Coyotes. Um … well, what else was there?
Not a damned thing.
I stood outside myself and imagined what a bear or mountain lion might think if it came upon me: I was a human being lying suspiciously just off the trail, breathing easily and wrapped in a miasma of strange smells, gun oil and cordite and the stench of human sweat.
Even from my own viewpoint, I looked dangerous. With a loaded, high-powered rifle ready to hand, I was like some comic book villain with Death Vision: Down the barrel of that gun, I could kill anything I could look at.
I suddenly realized that I was the most dangerous animal within five miles, and after 30,000 years or so of living on this continent with Man, everything with a brain bigger than a walnut would damned well know it.
I relaxed in minutes and, cozied down in my sleeping bag, drifted off and slept restfully and well until dawn.
— End —
© Hank Fox, 2011 and earlier. No part of this document may be reproduced in any form, written or electronic, without explicit written permission of the author.