I’m kayaking over to that island to look for a burned down amusement park if you want to join.
Sounds like an adventure.
I felt that initial whisper of excitement staring at the ominous looking island looming just across the river from our sailboat. We kayaked over quietly. Clouds covered the moon and every star so headlamps were our only source of light. We tied the boats up to a fallen log, hoping high tide would be kind to them.
We hiked for a while, talking about lighthearted, inconsequential things as if inviting nature to interrupt us. Mid conversation, each of us stopped at the sight of an iridescent pair of eyes watching us.
What if it’s a bear? I felt keenly aware of my senses; of my excitement that sometimes mistakes itself for fear. Josh then coached me on bear encounter techniques.
Make yourself big.Got it.
I had a weird feeling that this animal was something I’d never seen before. Everything looks different in the dark.
It’s a bobcat, I said, effectively beginning my reign as the girl who cried bobcat for the duration of this adventure. The eyes blinked huge in the darkness. The creature scurried off, leaving us to discover only a matted down pile of weeds that had served as their bed. A deer. Ok, so not technically a bobcat. But still. It was possible.
The light tapping of rain tickled the leaves. The trees had a haunted, sort of mystical quality to them. It looked like there were pools of fog around their bases and their long, lean trunks were graceful ballet dancers who craned their bodies in unbelievable silhouettes. When I shone my headlamp on them, all of that magic melted away and they looked like trees in a forest, same as they ever were.
Spider webs attached themselves to every possible surface. Josh stopped me every time I almost barreled into one and ended up wearing it as an accidental mask.
Up close, one particular orange and red spider was unexpectedly lovely. No movement was wasted as she moved along her web. In the dark, all I could see were her glowing eyes. Three seconds later, I ran into her web and it deflated into an almost invisible line. Josh was heartbroken.
Now she’s going to have to spend all night rebuilding that. Just like that, my moral compass had put things in perspective. He was right and I felt a bit like a monster, having never really thought about the discomfort it caused this graceful little creature. I had only considered its effect on me. There were frogs. Everyday insects that appeared exotic under the night. We looked at everything; took in each detail that I might not have taken the time to notice if it were daytime.
We saw some more eyes. Look. This time, they were further away. That is totally a bobcat!I was beside myself. As we got closer, I noticed the eyes were the same shape and size as the last animal we’d seen. Stubbornly, I clung to the hope but had to eventually concede that it was another deer. A lovely creature. But not a bobcat. When had I become obsessed with this idea?
We discovered the lake. The world’s largest lake within an island within a river, as a matter of fact. There was trash everywhere. Discarded clothes and beer cans; the kind of scene that makes me question why humans are allowed anywhere near nature. A giant rope swing we talked ourselves out of using because the lake right under it was only a foot deep. No sign yet of a broken down roller coaster, which was what we both had our hearts set on.
And then it happened. I saw a pair of orange, glowing round eyes. They blinked and the whole prairie plunged into darkness. The big soft lantern eyes peeled back open, spilling their warmth all over the still night. We held our breath and watched. It was a moment of absolute awareness that you can only have inside the perfect storm of nerves, awe and complete joy.
Josh. What else could eat a deer here except a bobcat?
He was way ahead of me, slowly creeping toward our large-eyed friend in the tall grass. I watched the bobcat watch us. She moved her head with an elegance that was decidedly feline. Her shoulders moved side to side and she trailed Josh’s movements like a slinky predator. There was a long moment where none of us moved. We watched each other gently, questioning what the other would do next. I didn’t want to risk breathing but I did turn my head to follow her path. And the next time I blinked, she was gone.
At this point, I was riding a nature high. If you know me, you know it’s that moment when I get so excited about something that I can’t stop talking. I replayed each moment. Josh patiently argued that it might have been a large otter or a fox. But I knew what I saw and I could not stop thinking how lucky we were to see such a shy and elusive creature.
The rain was lightly starting to fall, most of it blocked by the generous canopy of leaves. We came across a shed with a bunch of cables on it. Instinctively, we started whispering because I was convinced there might be a recluse living inside who has a strong distaste for trespassers. Maybe he owned the amusement park and when it burned down he went mad with grief and was waiting to exact revenge on anyone who set foot on his property. My mind wandered along with my feet.
The wires ran everywhere, even falling down and wrapping around trees. They seemed to guide us through the darkest part of the forest, away from the river that could lead us back to the boat. I kept thinking that it felt like the island wanted us to stay. There was a large cement block that looked like it could have held the base of a large structure…say a roller coaster? We climbed over downed trees.We walked until the path wouldn’t let us go any further. A huge tree blocked the way and we were forced to turn around, retracing the naked wire obstacle course.
We walked on, pausing every once in a while just to listen to the silence. We climbed up a lighthouse tower. The view of our own sailboat was calming and very near by. How was it that we were this close to the way out and yet this far? I challenged my slight fear of heights by letting Josh coax me back down the slippery ladder and back to Earth. The rain began to pelt us and we started heading back toward the kayaks. This time, it was a sea of nettles which held us back. With each step, vines literally wrapped themselves around our ankles and held us in place. We forged a new path and somehow made it right back to the lighthouse tower.
I had this thought again: The island wants us to stay.
The rain was pelting harder and we chopped our way through the carpet of painful stickers, deciding we had to get out of here. Away from the lighthouse. A little quicker now. Up a tall bank, 20 feet in the mud. The top was covered in more nettles. We went down to the stream which we had to cut across because our boats were on the other side. Now it was high tide, and the stream was fifty feet across and an unknown depth. We considered swimming but I had my camera in my pack so we opted to hike around what we hoped was a u-shaped bank of the stream. There was so much mud that we were up to ankle depth. I set my walking stick down and it hit a boot. As my eyes traced it up, I was sure, just for a second, that the boot was attached to a leg. I jumped back, dropped my stick and slipped onto my knees in the mud.
My mind started reeling about who this poor hiker was. Should I try to look for i.d. so their family would have some peace? Could it have been foul play? My first suspect was the shed guy. I was about two chapters into this story in my head before Josh told me it was just a tube of dirt and we prepared to scale another muddy bank. Roots provided an almost usable foothold and hands were punched directly into the mud wall to provide an illusion of a handhold. We somehow scrambled up to find an entire blanket of…more nettles.
Where were we? How are we back to the same place? It could have been scary if it wasn’t so ridiculous. We could not leave this spot. Somehow or another, we were not being allowed to cross the stream. The only other choice was to continue walking on this raised stabbing nettle plateau until it turned to the left. This island was starting to feel obsessive. It was the type of time that passed inexplicably. You didn’t know if hours or moments were going by.
I oscillated between laughter and serious thoughts of sleeping on a nettle bed in the rain. Josh calmly stated the plan. Just keep going. We did, laughing along the way at the whole predicament. Most of the time, anyway. We wondered what this would all look like by daylight- two hikers lost in a small handful of space.
We kept trucking and eventually passed right by the path, more than likely because I was stubbornly thinking I knew the way.
This is it, Erin.
And so it was. Our path to freedom. Morale was high and although I accidentally peed on my shoe moments later, it was all worth it.
No one ever believes me, but this stuff happens all the time, Josh told me. As we took the next 45 minutes to walk, crawl and poke our way through the shoreline brush, I was inclined to agree with him. He spotted our kayaks which had survived high tide like a couple of champions. I was convinced they’d come loose but he had faith. I got in Ali’s kayak, full of experience and mellowed by all I’d seen.
And I know no one believes me, but that was a bobcat and I’m sticking to my story.