Thursday, December 29, 2005

Lost in the Woods: or Becoming a Family Story

It has been a long time since my sister and I have gotten in trouble together. Here we are almost middle-aged parents of two children each and separated by hundreds of miles. You would think we were over causing our parents any grief. What I’ve learned is…you really never quit causing your parents grief. New Years Day of 2005 was such a day.

The whole debacle began when I insisted to my husband, David, that we take a quick trip down to my parent’s house in northern Alabama in order to visit with my sister, Christy, and her family who were there visiting from South Carolina. It was a great reunion. Six adults and four children all in the same house and my mom and dad couldn’t have been happier.

The first day, after a breakfast of eggs, biscuits, gravy and sausage at my grandmother’s house next door, we all decided to take our traditional walk in the woods in order to walk off all those carbs. The winter woods were starkly beautiful where they hadn’t been logged and the views of the neighboring foothills were incredible. Following the old road that Granddaddy made years before, we ended up at the bottom of a valley that we called the Strip Pit, which was once mined for coal. The kids played near the creek, jumping from rock to rock, and my sister and I hunted for fossils. After a while, everyone decided to head back to the farm, but Christy and I decided to follow the creek at the bottom of the valley and go for a long-overdue sister-sister walk.

She and I wandered around for a long time searching for more fossils. The large slate stones that had been unearthed during the mining and the later terraforming (for safety the state said) showed fossils such as ferns, sticks, small leaves, etc. We found all sizes of fossils and carried them as far as we could before leaving them on a big boulder. We said we'd come back for them later. As it turned out, we never did.

After a couple of hours, we decided to go back to the farm the way we usually went.... straight up the ridge - a big mistake. We started up the muddy hill full of energy; I was leading the way. Christy warned me not to climb so fast, but I didn't listen. I was having too much fun! I was home in Alabama!

Now the hills there are usually easy to climb...it's mostly pine trees, dogwoods, and other small trees, hardly any impediments to climbing. For an adult who is out of shape is another matter entirely.

And to top it off, the woods weren't as I remembered them being. For one thing, most of the big pines were gone. Granddaddy had them all cut for lumber about seven years ago, so all that had come back were the hardwoods and lots and lots of brambles, or sticker bushes as Nanny calls them. The way was hard and very dense; the ground was slick with leaves and pine straw. We bumbled through the briars, through thickets of small trees, through a muddy stream, up some more of the damned mountain until I couldn't go anymore. To my surprise, instead of feeling sorry for myself, I found myself so happy at being there that I almost cried. I had such a feeling of contentment. Sitting there on the ridge in my home state of Alabama, feeling the dampness of the ground under me in the falling darkness, was the best place I could have been at that moment and, for a while, I was at peace.

Now being in the woods after dark without a flashlight is about the dumbest thing anyone can do. Granddaddy says those woods are full of pits that were dug years ago by the mining crews who were testing for coal and I believe him. The state came through a few years ago and bulldozed the area and covered up an airshaft/cave so no one who trespassed on Granddaddy’s land would get hurt or killed. But, up there where we were, the pines were still standing and it was already night, so it was just about impossible to see where we were going, much less look out for hidden holes in the ground.

Finally, we saw a lighter area ahead of us in the darkness. It could have been water or grass, we couldn't tell, so Christy, brave soul that she is, decided to go check it out. Luckily, it turned out to be the road Granddaddy bush-hogged for Nanny's golf-cart/Hummer. You can imagine the relief we felt when we realized that we were almost home. It had been only a couple of hours, most of it in the dark, but we were sure that the family was out looking for us and that we would be in tons of trouble.

I mean, here we were, I'm close to 40, Christy not so much, and we were worried we would get it from the parents. And rightly so. Scared the crap out of them. Those woods are dangerous. I know cousins who did get lost in them and couldn't find their way back. Christy turned to me and said, "Dana, the only thing about this that has me worried is that now we are going to be a "Story" in the family." And she hung her head...and then we laughed. We had heard plenty of "stories" in our family over the years.

Sure enough, soon we heard our uncle hollering and followed the light from his flashlight to where he was. He gave us a blistering talking-to and then got on the walkie-talkie to tell everyone that he had found us, especially my dad who was in the woods looking for us and had gone out so upset, that he had forgotten a flashlight as well.

Nanny was waiting for us at the top of the backfield. She just shook her head at us and said Momma was waiting on us in the house. The fact she hadn’t come outside to see me personally was a bad sign. Momma was mad! And I don’t blame her. We did something we would never want our kids to do and, hopefully, when they are older they will have forgotten about this whole mess. But I doubt it. We are a Story now, aren't we?


UPDATE: In a couple of days, it will be our first anniversary of being lost in the woods and my family is STILL talking about it. In fact, the last time we went for a visit and my sister was there, all the men in the family brought extra flashlights. Family: ya gotta love 'em!

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