The morning after Halloween night, Landon and I went for a hike on a trail we had never visited before.
We drove into a canyon tucked into the mountains behind a rural community and monastery. Driving deep into the canyon, we commented on how beautiful this place can be even when the only color we see is brown - the different shades of brown make it such an incredible landscape. We parked outside of an iron gate that was closed. I guess there is a camp there, but we saw no sign of residence. The only indicator of human life outside of us was the Jeep that we parked beside. Landon hid our keys under a rock on the hillside and we crossed the bridge over the river and began our hike deeper into the canyon, through the almost barren trees.
Landon commented on the forest. It was dense and deciduous - something we haven't seen since Illinois. And we liked it. We could tell that the trail had been traveled on. We didn't see any footsteps, but the fallen leaves were a little dirtied and there was horse manure every once in awhile. Although, everything was very quiet. The trail was very muddy in the parts where the sun was able to touch the ground, and completely frozen in the parts that were shaded.
We should have been hiking beside a stream. But we didn't see it or hear it. We kept walking. Farther into the canyon, beyond hearing and seeing the road, beyond hearing and sight of the camp itself. Deeper into the canyon. We still hadn't seen anyone or heard people at all. Though i was keeping my eye out for others - there was that Jeep...
As our trail started turning and tucked deeper into the trees, i saw Duvick rolling in the dirt on the trail beneath a tree. We ran to see what kind of mischief he was in (we know from experience that a dog rolling in the dirt means one of three things: poop, vomit, or dead things). It was a tiny deer carcass. The pieces were strewn all over. It was mostly bones by now. The body was Duvick's rolling place, the head further down the trail, the leg bones and fur were strewn about. I couldn't believe we had encountered a carcass actually ON the trail.
Lion, I thought. I tried to remember the lions we saw in Africa. I remembered them hunting, remembered them stalking their prey. Tried to decide how to keep any lions away. But i know that mountain lions are different. They are solitary. I wouldn't know if a lion was stalking us until it was upon us.
We continued deeper into the canyon. I love to try to identify the trees, the flowers, the rocks, and the animal scat. so i tried to concentrate on the smell of the dead and rotting leaves beneath my feet, and the tree branches overhead. What a beautiful world. I came upon what i thought was animal scat. I knew it couldn't be dog or human because it was very furry. After a short analysis of it, we discovered that it wasn't scat at all, but a piece of an animal.
Just up the trail we came upon our second carcass. This one was fresh. It was missing the meat, the guts, but the entire thing was intact, minus a few limbs, and it was still covered in fur. This carcass was similar to the last. It was similar in size, also a deer, and left to rot right on the trail.
At this point I was starting to feel uncomfortable. We continued walking and I looked for jagged stones that i could carry in my hand. i found two that were pointed, thinking that if anything jumped on me, i could jab these rocks into them. To avoid that possibility, i started banging the rocks together periodically as we walked, hoping the loud clacking would echo through the canyon and scare any beasts away.
I then started thinking that maybe there was something worse in this forest. This was the morning after Halloween, after all, and I wondered about any ceremonial or ritualistic sacrifices that could have taken place here. I was hoping that we wouldn't find the owners of the Jeep.
Our trail intercepted a stream and we sat down so Duvick could have a drink. We took our Nalgenes out of our pack to hydrate. I wasn't too thirsty, though. I was distracted by the forest. I remembered from our time in Africa that the best place for the predator to get the prey is at the water hole, and this was the first sign of water we had seen all day. So I smacked my stones together and searched the trees and the surrounding mountain sides. I listened carefully for movement. I heard nothing.
Landon read that this trail would intercept the approach of some wonderful rock climbing deep into the canyon if we only stayed on it for about an hour.
"I'm a little scared," I said. I was trying to master my fear, though. Landon tells me that I need to learn to control my fear (he mostly says this to me when we're rock climbing and I'm near tears when i know i need to make a scary move). I didn't want fear to ruin my day, or his. So I shrugged, "...I just wanted you to know". So far Landon hadn't asked me about the stones I was carrying, and I was too embarrassed to tell him that I was keeping the lions (or whatever else may be in the woods) away. ha. crazy woman.
So we went deeper.
Soon after the trail turned from the stream, I saw Duvick sniffing and licking something beneath a tree. As I approached the dog, my heart started racing at what i saw. Unlike anything i had ever seen before: a gigantic dead carcass. The rib cage was giant. The jaw bone, disconnected from the skull, was as big as my forearm. The femur was long and thick. The skull was covered in a thick fur. a moose, i thought to myself, or a horse.
I wanted to keep moving. I didn't want to stand there. I didn't even want to get close to it. I wanted to leave, NOW.
"Just a little further and then we'll get to the cliffs. I really want to see what kind of climbing is back here," Landon said, the dead animals not bothering him a bit.
"Landon this is getting a little freaky. Lions don't eat moose. At least not this time of year."
We continue into the woods. I think if i would have been standing still, I would have been physically shaking. My mind was racing, trying to find an explanation for the huge dead creature. Not a lion, nor a bear would do this. Something larger had to do it. Like a man. And as I have been reading New Moon lately, of course i imagined that possibly a vampire might have done this. I liked the idea of someone from the Cullen clan being responsible for the carcasses MUCH more than the idea of some gang of satanists sacrificing animals in some ritualistic pagan worship. But i don't believe in vampires... So that leaves.....
I started hitting the rocks together much more often. It soothed me a bit, to be making a loud noise in the quiet and still forest. It made me feel like we had a presence here. We were not prey that could be easily stalked and captured.
"Well, we've been hiking for over and hour and I haven't seen the cliffs, have you?"
I casually said, "nope. sorry. maybe we should turn around and go back?"
Landon saw the desperation in my eyes. He laughed and complied. He thinks it's funny when i'm scared. Well, only when i'm scared for no good reason (in his opinion). Like during tornado warnings, when i'm cowering in the hall closet with the flashlight on. That's funny. When our car stalls in the middle of Banana Hill at night - when we were advised not to drive at night through the African villages, and then the people start approaching our car and pushing it backwards down the street, Landon doesn't laugh at my fright. That's not funny.
Our hike out was quick. We passed over the three carcasses again, stopped at the stream to get Duvick some water again, while i waited, antsy. I continued to click my rocks making me feel better: armed and annoying.
When we got to the bridge, I threw my stones into the stream and breathed a sigh of relief. The Jeep was gone.
Landon got mad at Duvick for eating crap that was hidden in a bush next to the road, and we drove out of the canyon with the windows down to keep the smell of human feces and rotting carcass in the back seat with the dog.