While living in Oregon near the foot of Crater Lake I couldn’t wait for a snow white Christmas. Deep snow, not the Missouri kind of snow, that’s never more than ankle deep and hardly ever at Christmas. A new home with a twelve-foot window deserved the perfect tree. My neighbor put up a beautiful tree on her deck and I decided that I wanted one just like that in my window. So I called her.
There are two forests that people say you do not want to be lost in. The Cadillac Mountains in the East and the Oregon woodlands in the west. Both forests are a bad place to be lost in. I didn’t know this at that time but my life was about to bring about a new meaning to feeling safe and warm.
I called my neighbor and asked her where she purchased such a beautiful tree. She told me that the National Forestry had placed an ad in the paper stating that a tree twelve feet and under could be picked for a mere five dollars. My girlfriend and I decided we would go just to the edge of the woods and cut down ours. I asked my neighbor to describe to me the road and mile marker that she went to.
Karen arrived at my house around 9:00 am, her husband with her, deciding to go along with us. We left with an ax, hatchet and small saw. There was about a foot of snow on the ground and it was very cold. I had on snow boots, sweat pants, and a zip up jacket with a hood. Karen’s husband had on a decent coat, but Karen had on tennis shoes and a light jacket. I asked her why no snow boots and a heavier jacket and she said, “we will only be there for a few minutes.”
When we arrived at the mile marker described to us, for some reason it just didn’t satisfy us so we went on three more miles. We stepped out of the car and off the road and within fifteen minutes located the trees we wanted. But now, we were lost. We must have dragged those trees around for an hour, in circles. I told them to drop the trees because we faced a bigger need than that of a tree for Christmas.
We walked and looked for our tracks or maybe a sight we could recognize, but to no avail. No one had a watch, it was a cloudy day and snow was spitting off and on for an hour at a time. With a heavy heart I knew we were not coming out of those woods any time soon. Karen began to beg God for a way out and I began to beg God that Randy (my husband) would act swiftly in finding us help.
I found an open space with some tree trunks and told my girlfriend to begin to gather pine straw from
under the trees. Her husband, a giant of a man, I told to help find some dry wood. With Karen ’s lighter we started a fire. The night set in and the temperature began to drop. We built our fire too big. Instead of thinking about warmth and just lasting the night, we thought about someone finding our fire. A plane flying over a national forest would radio in to someone, anyone, that there was a fire in the forest. While we were putting anything and everything on this fire we got it big enough to at least stand next to it. We couldn’t sit because it was to wet. There was no talking. All silent deep in our own fears. What was out there, would anyone find us, what would find us, when all of a sudden I felt like we were being watched. I turned slowly around and saw four sets of eyes just on the other side of the fire and slightly in the dark. “Dear God, please …”
When my eyes focused I discovered a cougar and her cub just sitting there watching us. I thought of all the stories I had heard. You know the ones. “Their more afraid of you than you are of them.” I now thought that that was the most ridiculous thing I had ever heard because, at this time in this place my fear was pretty much peaked out. Keeping my eyes on them I softly told Karen and Levi not to make any sudden moves because we had company. Surprisingly they didn’t. We just all stared at them and they stared at us. I didn’t think my heart could beat any faster than it was at that time. The visit was short. Maybe they just needed to be warm or maybe they were just curious but I don’t think I have ever held an ax so tight in my hand as I did that night. They left as silently as they came and slowly we began to breath normal.
However, it wasn’t long before we were visited again. We began to hear huffing coming through the woods. You know the sound. The kind a bear makes as it snorts through it’s nose. As it began to get closer I could see my fear reflected on their faces. “You guys listen to me. There is no reason for us to die.” I said. “We have a hatchet, an ax and a saw. We might get hurt, but we don ’t have to die!” As we hunched together waiting for whatever it was to appear I thought I would probably never put another tree up in my life. First we saw the steam from the animal’s nostrils and then we saw him. For a moment in time we froze then we gave a sigh of relief. It wasn’t a bear. It was an elk.
All through the night after our fire died Karen would scream for help and the only thing answering was either wolves or coyotes. We walked all night. We were so cold and were beginning to suffer from hypothermia. Karen more than us. I fell down a ravine and injured my ankle and knee. We walked until we began to cry (all at different times of course. Seems like our meltdowns never happened at the same time.)
Karen was convinced that we would never be found and Levi was convinced he could find the car, but, I was convinced that Randy would find me. I told my friends that when we were not home by 4:00 pm he would think we went into town to buy trees and that he would call their house. If no one was there he would call search and rescue and that is exactly what happened. They at first thought there might be fowl play but when he told them I was on medication they began to move right then.
It was around 11:00 the next day when we found a logging road. Karen and Levi continually wanted to leave the road and look for who knows … but, it was a surfaced road and I knew it had to lead somewhere. It wasn’t long before I heard the sound of a truck coming our way. I could barely stand but I moved to the center of that road determined that they would either run me down or stop. They stopped. I screamed, “please say that you are looking for us!” He smiled, reached into the truck and pulled out a radio, “Only since 10:00 last night.”
Within minutes men came from everywhere. We were given warm drinks, food and blankets. One man said that they had found our trees around 2:00 am and did we want them. We all screamed “No!” at the same time. I told one of the searchers that I knew I was in trouble because I burned down a lot of their saplings trying to stay warm. I asked him if he could just let me pay for them on time. He laughed and said, “Don’t worry about that, it’s called survival and it’s on the house.” I couldn’t believe that all these people were in the woods with us that long and never heard us. It wasn’t until later that I found out that a person lost in these woods stood a chance of never being found. These woods went into Canada. They spread wide and deep.
A few days later while I was recovering we heard Christmas caroling in our front yard. When we opened the front door there stood our neighbors with a 12-foot tree and a big red bow on the top. I choked up with tears and thought we really don’t survive alone. We need the warmth of feeling like we are cared for by others. Who was it that wrote, “No Man Is An Island?” But, the greatest and the most warming was the love of my husband. Our relationship is one that we can anticipate each other’s every move. Thank God he walked through the room at the time I repeated the mile marker number and the road we would be on. While my friend and her husband were falling apart I knew that Randy would find me.