On Leatherwood updates and walkabouts

Allan Moult has just posted the newest edition of Leatherwood Online. In this edition, there’s a humorous look a the shape of Tasmania (you really must check out the underwear), and photos from a trip to Tasmania from photographer Sheila Smart. (See more of her lovely work here. ) Allan has also started a Leatherwood Online weblog using ExpressionEngine, the new software by pMachine.

In a third story, Allan includes photos from his 22 day walk around the Southwest National Park. Following tradition, I have stolen not just one but two of his photos to grace my page.

I’ve never taken a longer hike like this, over several days and requiring camping. There are overnight hikes here in Missouri, and a glorious one that cuts through the New England area, the Appalachian Trail, which I’ve always wanted to walk. I’m hesitant about hiking by myself, but people do; perhaps this would be a growth experience for me. However, I remember a story about overnight hiking when alone from a friend of mine from years ago. This story was enough to make he hesitate to camp with people, much less by myself.

Steve was the brother of the husband of a close friend of mine and I dated him off and on for a couple of years before I moved to Arizona. He was a very good person, as was his whole family. When my friend and his brother got married, Steve and I and several people spent the night downing tequila shots, until I finally passed out about 5 in the morning. I was working at the photography studio at that time, and I was on duty that Sunday, so I had to crawl out of bed at 9 to get ready to go to work. It was the one and only time that I woke just as drunk as I went to sleep. Luckily, I didn’t drive then, but I must have looked funny wobbling the two miles to work.

Anyway, back to the story. Steve decided to go on a three month hike along the Cascades–all by himself. He was a natural outdoorsman, in excellent physical shape (though shorter than me–he helped me realize that I had no problem dating men shorter than me, height being a matter of mind, and neither of us minded much). He had also been on long hikes before and he worked out a schedule of meet ups with his family, to check in and re-supply.

Well, about a month after he started the trip, he cut it short, walking over 20 hours down from the trail until he found a phone to call his brother to come get him. We were, frankly, surprised. When I saw him next, we sat long into the night over beers talking about it.

The trip was great, he said. He’d meet up with interesting people along the way, and sometimes would hike with them for a time. Mostly though he stayed by himself because he preferred to be alone on these trips. The weather was good, the hiking was good, everything was good.

Then one night, while he was in his tent, he heard a sound that woke him with a start, and set his heart to hammering. He said it was an unearthly scream–a howl that was neither human nor any beast he’d heard before. He shot up in his sleeping bag, and strained his ears to hear the sound again. Nothing. He started to lay back down, thinking it must have been some kind of owl, when at that moment, the sound happened again.

He said it sounded like a human crossed with some form of animal. He couldn’t tell if the sound was of pain, or of rage. Frankly, he didn’t want to know.

He crept out of his little pup tent–the kind of tent barely bigger than the sleeping bag–to the fire and grabbed a brand from it, holding it aloft. He hadn’t brought anything but a knife, but even then, he didn’t think to grab it. All he wanted was the light. To light the shadows in the forest around him.

The sound continued for another 15 minutes or so–close enough to terrify him, but not so close as to frighten him into fainting so that he could escape from the thrall of it. Once it stopped, he built the fire up and sat there, all night, with his back to it, just looking into the forest in the direction of the sound. At first light, he put the fire out, packed up, and headed down the mountain as fast as he could.

As he told me the story, his normally robust and jovial face became drawn and the hand holding the beer shook. Steve was not a man to lie, and neither was he a man to exaggerate. He loved the outdoors and it would take much to get him to come down from the mountain.

I lost track of all of them, Steve, his brother, my friend over time with my gypsy ways. I regret this now, but at the time I just couldn’t stay in one place long enough to send out phone numbers and address. This was pre-Net days, at least for me, so keeping in touch required a great deal of resolution–resolution I lacked in my restlessness.

But before I lost touch, I know for a fact that Steve never went into the mountains again.

I was reminded of this story when I saw Allan’s photos. Funny how a wilderness half a planet away can remind me of a friend, a quarter of a century away.

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