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In the Woods Today: Will-o-Wisp

February 3rd, 2016

This one was too long for a tweet.

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Windy and warm in the woods today. Not like yesterday, when the wind shifted and died and came to life again and gusted in such a way that everywhere around me trees creaked and branches clattered and I could tell thereby that I wasn’t actually surrounded by distantly laughing children, barking dogs and shouting men even though that’s just what it sounded like. Not so today: a west wind, strong and steady. I biked out to this peninsula I like that sticks out into lake and swamp and hosts a half dozen huge old red oaks. Last year it suffered a brushfire, but the oaks survived. Aspens rise from the marshy ground to the west. I climbed my favorite oak. I heard a voice. Loud, not quite clear, but almost: “not my lake”, I thought I heard the first few times. No–the first few times I thought it was a pine tree creaking.

No kidding it’s not your lake, I thought, it’s everybody’s. Fuck off.

Then, maybe the tenth time, I heard “Caught my leg”, and then for the next twenty or so repetitions, clearer all the time. I stared across pond and marsh. It wouldn’t have done any good to yell–the wind was right in my face. I couldn’t see anyone. I scrambled down out of the tree and started into the marsh. Ice, that slickly clouded ice you only get when it’s been below freezing for weeks and then suddenly well above for three days straight. Twenty paces, no sign of anybody, I realize I am doing exactly what the will-o-wisp would want. His leg is stuck? What’s going to happen to me? So, temperately, but with a twinge that I’m abandoning some poor guy, I turn back. The shouts keep coming as I walk the quarter mile back to my bike. Keep yelling, I thought furiously at him, or I’m never going to find you, as I slogged through thick mud onto the west trail, a mile and a half clockwise around the marsh until I was on the far side of where I thought I’d heard him. I left my bike and plunged into thick brush. Now I was windward of him, so I started yelling. I followed deer trails, meandering all along the shore and out onto another little marshy peninsula I hadn’t known was there, then further out among the ice. I climbed another tree. I kept yelling, kept looking. I clung there in the tree, listening.

Nothing. Wind.

Rarely have I gotten so thorn-scratched and covered in muck for so little. Stupid will-o-wisp.

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