Saturday, July 7, 2018

A night hike through the woods

It was close to 10 p.m. on a Friday night and there was a baby 'possum standing in the middle of the trail. Someone was shining a flashlight on him, but he just stood there in the spotlight, frozen, like an amateur Shakespearean actor who has forgotten his lines in mid soliloquy.

I felt like helping out the poor thing by whispering the next line: "'What a piece of work is man, how noble in reason, how…" but who does that sort of thing -- giving lines to a creature that's too young to have even heard of Shakespeare?

Me, it seems.

I asked Chris Caswell why the possum wasn't running away, and he said it was too young to be scared of humans. And I thought, "And too young to have learned to look both ways while crossing a road; to have learned not to open suspicious emails; to play possum, I reckon."

Someone doused the light, leaving the possum to find its own way off stage, and we moved on.

We? Yes, an adventurous band of humans out on a night hike through Lake Bob Sandlin State Park, eager to see what could be seen, hear what there was to hear. We were two park rangers, Chris and Clifford Daily; Chris’ wife Sarah and their two youngsters, Carter and Luke; Kristi from Abilene who was camping in the park; and me, a cub reporter looking for a story and trying to overcome the human instinct of fearing all things that creep, crawl and shriek like a fox in the middle of the night.

Oh, yes. The fox. Of course at the time I didn’t know it was a fox. I just heard it scream out in the woods one night many years ago as I was heading out the door to pull the trash dumpster to the end of the driveway. Needless to say (but I will anyway), the trash didn’t make it, and I cowered inside wondering, “What the heck was that?”

“That’s a bobcat,” said Chris, bringing me out of the memory. And as if on cue, a coyote started howling. The seven of us stood still on the trail listening to the beast sing his song, while the moon and Jupiter danced above the treetops, not paying us any mind.

When the concert was over, Chris said, “Sounded like a male,” and we continued down the pathway, not doubting him one iota.

And those two youngsters? Nary a peep could be heard from them. It was as if walking down a path surrounded by poison ivy, snakes and scorpions was just part of their bedtime routine – put on your pajamas, go brush your teeth, don’t forget your half-a-mile hike through the spooky woods, and then daddy will read you a bedtime story.

During our trek, we thought we saw a snake, but it was only a stick; we saw some poison ivy, and we stayed far away from it; Kristi from Abilene noticed a box turtle laying eggs, and Carter hunkered down next to it to get a better look; and Chris said scorpions illuminated by UV light really glowed in the dark, and he dashed off ahead to look for some.

Who does that sort of thing?

Not me, it seems.

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