Sitting around the campfire, we laughed and joked about the redundancies of our normal lives back home. The air was cool, crisp, and delicious to our noses. The trees whined in the night, bending in the breeze and letting out ghostly creeks in the soft air. The lake shimmered with the soft reflection of the moon, speckled with Christmas lights, gently rolling and slipping across the sand and rocks on the northern shore. The campfire was tall, and released a wonderful glow that lit our smiles and accented our emotions, twinkling in the night and giving a welcomed sense of security in the darkness of the night. We were loud and reckless with our words as they echoed triumphantly through the night.
Then, they were there. From nothingness. Just out of the reach of the light of the fire. Still and calm. They were looking at us, staring, debating, judging. The eyes, green with envy. It wanted what we had, and it wanted it badly. They were narrow, and beady. They were sharp and piercing, cold and contemplating. Was it a bobcat? A mountain lion? Our heartbeats instantly accelerated at the sight of something unidentified. Perhaps something I have never seen before. We pulled out our lights and illuminated the creature in the night.
A raccoon, fair enough, but still not something to play around with in the woods. Despite the fire, and our bulbous voices the animal had pursued either us or the food we had in camp. It was either used to humans and no longer afraid, or possibly diseased. We had to take immediate action. We jumped, and yelled and scared the animal off into the dark of the woods. The animal was gone, and we could return to our conversation.
A half hour had passed by, the woods were dark, and things were settling down at the camp. Our eyes were getting heavy, and our heads began to long for whatever soft cotton like fluff we had with us to use as pillow.
Have you ever just sat in the dark, alone, and felt like you weren’t? The slimy sensation that something was wrong began to slither down my spine as I raised my head from the would be pillow of wood I was resting on. I gazed around, looking hopelessly into the darkness. I wouldn’t see anything with my eyes alone so I reach for my light. Upon shining it’s beam into the woods, there it was again, that raccoon. Something wasn’t right here, this little guy had returned. Maybe we just didn’t scare him enough the first time.
“Jason,” I said, “here it is again!”. I grabbed my knife and Jason grabbed his flashlight and we sprinted towards the pest. The raccoon locked eyes with us, and bolted for the far end of the forest. We chassed, fast and swift through the trees. Dodging foliage, jumping trunks, and tearing through bushes we chased him far away from camp. When we lost sight of the raccoon we grabbed whatever we could around us and chucked it into the woods to let it know we meant business. Our camp was our home, and there was no way this fuzz bucket was coming in and taking our food, damaging our gear, or much worse attacking one of us in our sleep. We carefully returned to our base, confident in our efforts and prepared for sleep.
About another half hour had passed. All was well in the woods. The fire was calming down from a small roar to a modest nightlight in the forest calling to the moths and nocturnal animals in the area. Again my eyes began to sag, and my mind wandered, when I heard it. A snap. “Really?” I thought, “This thing is back again?”. I grabbed my light, and again illuminated the forest. Predictably, there he was again, but this time closer than ever before. The raccoon had stalked us silently to within 6 feet of where I sat. It was amazing how close he got with me having no sense that he was ever there. This had to stop. I grabbed my knife, and this time my trust can of bear mace. This would show the little bugger. Jason was already alerted and prepared as well. Again, we made our pursuit. This time angry, and aggressive, yelling and flailing as we chased the nuisance into the blackened depths of trees and shrubs.
I must have not been paying attention to where I was running. I leapt over a stump only to catch a thorny vine that wrapped around my ankle, pulling my leg out from under me. I panicked and through my arms forward. Luckily my leg released, but tearing skin as the thorns pulled loose. I stumbled barely keeping my balance. As I hurtled forward, I saw something. Time slowed, as I gazed into the eyes of something different. This was no raccoon.
I quickly dropped to the ground, and threw my eyes forward to see what I had spotted. In amazement, I looked into the eyes of a beast, inches from my face. It’s hard stood up, and it’s eyes gazed into mine. There was no emotion, but somehow there was danger to it. A wolf spider, so large that it’s eyes were glistening in the night form the beam of my headlamp. I stumbled back looking at this monstrosity that I almost fell face first into. I turned away to retreat, and there was a barrier behind me. A wall of web, and centered on the wire was a black widow. I must have stumbled under it as I tripped, barely missing another encounter with a venomous spider. I turned left, and to my amazement there was another widow, hanging in wait immediately in front of me. How did I make it this far? Finally, I turned one more time to find a small opening to squeeze through away from my near captors. I cautiously retreated to base, completely forgetting about the raccoon Jason was still chasing.
Slowly walking back through the woods, using the dim campfire as a guide, I could now see clearly what I had just missed. There was not just a black widow, or a couple, there were everywhere. Webs entangled the woods all around me. Venomous spiders peppered the trees, and webs making a deadly fortress for anyone who wondered in. Sharpened branches stretched into the opening I had just plowed through. Thorny vines were strung about like barbed wire on a war front. On top of that, even larger wolf spiders hanging on the trees decorated the pathway back. I took caution now, ducking and slipping through the best I could. I made it back safe, but shaken. My leg stinging from the thorns I crawled into my tent to call it a night. The raccoon won, he could have my food if could get to it, hanging from a tree branch over the water.
In my rush to scare off the small pest, I threw myself blindly into a much more dangerous situation that I didn’t even realize was present. Black widow venom can not only make you sick, but in numbers far smaller than what I somehow slipped running through the woods, they could be fatal. Wolf spider will not kill you, but they leave a powerful sting that can ache for days. Thorns tear skin, and the wounds can easily become infected. I learned a lesson that night. I learned to never ignore the ever present dangers around while you’re in the wilderness you to simply run off an animal that may or may not be a threat at all. It’s a lesson of patients, carefulness, and quick mindedness that I will not soon forget.