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The Mirror in the Desert: Into the wilderness (part 2)

April 26, 2020
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For part one go here

I should have just left.  Gotten in my car and headed somewhere else, anywhere else.  A hotel, another campground, it didn’t matter.  But I didn’t.   I was tired of driving and, in the customs typical of the people in my country, I chose to ignore my common sense, my gut feelings and my sense of self-preservation.

I was not, I must point out, convincing myself that if I got in trouble that someone would come to my rescue.  I know full well that even in normal circumstance when seconds count, help is many minutes away.  Out here, I could forget about it.

I was healthy, reasonably fit and a fairly large man and figured that would probably keep trouble at bay.  I had a knife and pepper spray as well.  Those representatives of the government that I could count not to make it in time to help if I needed them, also prohibited me from bringing anything that would be more of a deterrent.

I did decide to head out in the early evening and camp farther into the interior.  So I grabbed my gear, made sure I had everything, strapped my pack on, adjusted it so it didn’t rub wrong and headed up the trail.  I could feel them watching me as I headed onto the crushed gravel of the start of the trail.

I caught myself listening as I walked further in the wilderness area for the sound of anyone approaching me from behind, but no one came.  At what I estimate a half a mile out I heard singing behind me that followed an unfamiliar rhythm.  I paused to listen to it, but couldn’t make out the words.

I wasn’t sure if it was because it was distorted by the distance, or if it was in some language I didn’t know.  It was still faintly raining, but the air was still, the acacia, ironwood and mesquite did not rustle.  There was, if anything, just a slight hush caused by the rain as if it muted even itself as it softly fell around me.  The only sound was that strange chant.

I wondered what songs they would be signing.  Something from Pagliacci? Bobo the clown?  My own attempt at joking to myself fell flat.  I found myself hurrying to get farther away.

I counted the mile markers as I went, grateful that the path was well maintained and that the moonlight that was diffused through the clouds provided sufficient light in the early evening.

After the five mile mark, I was on a ridge that had slowly risen up out of the valley floor and I looked for a place to set up camp.  Finding a fairly level location about a hundred yards off the trail and provide some scant cover by a mesquite tree.  I endeavored to put up my tent.

If you have every put up a tent in the dark and in the rain, you know what a pain in the neck it is.  I don’t know what it is with tent designers, but there are always different length or shaped poles that they helpfully identify with a small letter or number stamped on the bottom  of one end.

Once I had the tent taken care of, I considered my options.  I didn’t hear the singing anymore.  It was quiet   Hushed.  The rain kept the wildlife hiding.  It was quiet, peaceful.  I decided I might as well go to sleep.  I got out of my wet clothes, but on some fresh ones and got into the sleeping bag.

And found I couldn’t sleep.  Just sat staring at the seems along the roof of the tent.  Listening.  But all I heard was the gentle touch of the rain on the roof.  I don’t know how long I lay there drifting, almost asleep but not quite.  Minutes, hours.  I don’t know.  I had shut my phone off as I headed out, there wasn’t any reception for it here anyway.

I remember hearing a story once of a man caught in a blizzard that found refuge in an ice cave.  All bundled up in the dark, after what seemed like must have been a day waiting, cold miserable, alone he checked his watch and found only an hour had passed.

All I know is it was still night.  Still raining, and I could see where the moon was to even guess what the time was when I heard it.  For a moment I thought someone was lighting off firecrackers.

It wasn’t.

It was gunfire.

Turns out I didn’t have to worry about the clowns after all.  I was worrying about the wrong thing.

Continued in part three

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