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Tuesday, July 31, 2007

The Long Hike Back from Lava Canyon

It got darker and darker on the long hike back from Lava Canyon.

It was really dark. Well…even darker than this.
I had my trusty (though tiny) LED flashlight in hand, but I almost never use it unless the ground is steep and uneven. If you use a flashlight in the dark, you can only see the things illuminated in a cone of harsh light – a small field of vision by any measure. What you can’t see are all the predators, including the two legged kind, suddenly becoming all too aware of your location. I know it is counter-intuitive, but it somehow seems brighter to walk in the dark, feeling the breath of the trees on your cheek, hearing your footsteps reflecting off the tree-trunks and monitoring the rhythm of your heart and the cadence of your respiration.

There were some stars out, and I could see them, but there were also high clouds floating by that mostly obscured them almost all of the time. Maybe, at best, you could see three or four of the very brightest stars winking in and out of view. So this image must essentially be an idealized manifestation of my recollection.
I guess that’s the paradoxical nature of the story I’m about to tell you. I’m going to show you pictures of things I never saw.

Mile markers at the side of the road measured the passage of time. Intended for cars, the mile-scale of the markers is a vast, almost discouraging unit of measure for a limping hiker – as if an amoeba were forced to travel the length of a yardstick. As light faded and all color was leeched out of the world, the rare silhouette of a mile marker became the cause for celebration.
Suddenly like gunshots, the sound of branches breaking echoed close by in the woods to my right. Was it a bear? Was it a mountain lion stalking me? Or was it something primeval, something much bigger and much stronger and perhaps much more evil.

As something thundered through the brush, I determined that a vivid imagination can be something of a mixed blessing.

Digital Painting – Step 1 – Dark Encounter
It is often hard to judge the size of an animal by the noise it makes crashing through the underbrush. I have at times been certain elephants were bearing down on my position, only to be confronted by a confused furry bunny or geriatric nutria. This time however, whatever was crashing through the woods was an order of magnitude louder than anything I’d ever heard before save for a train or a monster truck. I moved to the middle of the road and tried to be inconspicuous.
The terrible noise grew closer and closer. The monkey hugged my leg in a death grip and trembled. I patted his hairy shoulder and tried to be brave for its sake. “It’ll be O.K. little fellow.” I said with a quivering voice.
Digital Painting – Step Two – Dark Encounter
Somewhere ahead in the dark, the beast burst out of the woods and onto the asphalt. I heard the frantic clip clop of hooves in a twirling tornado of sound, as if the animal was spinning in circles. A rabid horse? Could it really be a horse? Then it straightened out and proceeded to gallop towards us.

Digital Painting – Step Three – Dark Encounter

There’s a moment in a car wreck when your brain figures out the physics involved and determines that there is nothing to be done – that impact is inevitable. At that point, a sense of calm sets in and time seems to slow down. Like a feeble Ben Kenobi, I pressed the button that activates my flashlight and pointed it, as if it were a ridiculous light saber, at the noise . Curious as I was, I never saw anything, but I heard the hoof beats suddenly stop - the hooves skidding on the road - a sequence of sound signatures that sounded for all the world like a speeding Labrador trying instantly to reverse direction on a polished linoleum floor. Whatever it was bounded into the woods on the other side of the road and everything was quiet again in less than three leaps.

Lucky for the monkey, he wasn’t wearing pants.



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  4. (This is exactly why I wish you would start home earlier.)

    I wonder what will happen next!

    Did you survive and make it back? Did the monkey go on strike? Does the monkey get more than an outline on the digital painting? Do you get offered a multi-million dollar book and movie deal to bring your story to the masses?

    Gosh, I'll have to make sure I check back for the next installment!



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