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The kids and I sat on the living room floor enjoying a crackling fire, savoring the warmth that was gently carressing us. It was a cool October evening, the leaves had been turning a miriade of colours as they always do this time of year. We had been taking short evening drives after I finished work for the day to enjoy the beautiful sights that the nearby forests so graciously provided for us. We would take roads lined on either side with birch, cottonwoods, elm and oak, madrone and many other broad leafed species. The firey orange, pale yellows and tans were a sensory delight.Ichabod, Gyppsy, Duncan, Nomad and I had decided to embark on a 4 hour journey to the Mr. Baker Nat'l Forest to enjoy a three mile hike to a lake nestled in a hollow formed by almost vertical walls of mountain. The lakes name mirrored that of the distance of the hike, Three Mile Lake. We have made this trip in the past during months of much warmer weather.
The Saturday of our departure was a sunny and warm day, we decided instead of the '54 Chevy, we would take the '62 Thunderbird Convertable, there is just something grand about driving with the top down. As we left the flatlands and started climbing into the mountains the air was becoming crispy enough that I pulled over and flipped the switch that would open the trunk deck lid from the back seat side, an extender flap would deploy and the top would sart to travel up to be locked to the windshield metal crossbrace. The trunk flap would then fold back in on itself and the trunk lid would settle back into the down position and lock itself in place. Once this was all finished off we went again, this time with the heater on low.
Finally we reached our destination, the Three Mile Trailhead. The parking area is tucked away out of sight from the two lane road we were one with no one else but us there. We were faily high in elevation and the morning fog was pretty dense. We gathered our gear, backpack for me and saddle bags for the boys with our food and water, rain gear and blankets to sit on and keep us warm while we shared a lunch and took pictures at the lake.
The climb is a very steep one with many switchbacks, the higher we got, the more dense the fog. We were in an old growth area of the forest, the fir and hemlock tress were wide in girth and seemingly never ending in heigth. To look up at the tops of them made me have the illusion of falling backwards while doing so. Fog was moving around our feet much like the tenticles of a jellyfish drifting along with the ocean current. The trees bottom most branches ended from 15 to 20 feet above the ground and were as thick as a stout mans upper leg, the ends of some of them shaped like a human hand and covered in needles that resembled hair. As we walked along we were complete engulfed in this vacilating fog, it was rather earry and surreal as is there was nowhere else but this little space we were in, no outside world, nothing. The kids were staying close in to me, at best we could only see about 30 feet in any direction, the path was well defined yet there were shear dropoffs along the way so we had to be very careful with each step taken.
About an hour into our trek the fog was having an affect on all of us when suddenly we heard this thumping sound in the distance that seemed to be coming our way. We could hear some of the undergrowth rustling and still the thumping was coming and louder also. We all stopped and listened, the kids started letting out low growls and their eyes were as wide as wide could be, and still the thumping got louder. Out of nowhere this huge brown form materialized no more than 10 feet in front of us. My nerves were on edge as were the kids, they huddled even closer to me for what protection they thought I might be able to afford them. Not much I will admit I was as un-nerved as they were. What sort of creature was this that was just about upon us. We had no way to defend ourselves other than some pitiful rocks and perhaps a fallen tree branch or two. The fog was not our friend and really had not been since we started out on this trek. Why, why I did I decide to embark on this adventure? Then it happened, what we all feared the most, this huge hulking, indistinquishable form blocked our passage and this massive head with glistening green eyes staired right at us. It had huge many pointed spike protruding from the crown of it's head. The largest and most fearsome Stag I had ever seen. My heart was about to jump out of my chest and all the kids were laying as flat as flat could be on the ground trying to be invisible. This creature let out a snort and then bugled, at the same time slowly advancing towards us. This being October and the mating season the males are very aggressive....was the bugling a signal to others of his kind to rally with him and come at us as a pack? I did not know, and this was not a hunting trip, my only weapon as such was a flimsy pocket knife compared to what would be needed against this behemoth.
The stag and I stood there after he had taken a couple of steps forward and starred at one another, it would have done me no good to turn and try to run or seek shelter behind a tree, I was no match for his speed, I was frozen in time. Then we heard more thumping, the kids were whimpering now, no show of bravado from them at all. Another even larger buck showed up and stood right next to the first one looking at us and snorting so much that the heat vapors from his nostils almost made his head disappear. His antlers were even larger and more impressive than the first. How could I notice something like this as frieghtened as I was.
When we parked the car there was no other vehicles around and I knew that there would be no other humans on the trail and even if there were, would they be close enough to be a deterent to these two massive creatures? Between the two of them I was certain that I was looking at at least 900 to a 1000 pounds of pure muscle on the hoof. Doomed kept running through my head as an only thought, my knees were shaking uncontrolably, I wanted desperately for all of us to be anywhere but here....but here we were.
The tension was an unbearable weight pressing in on me, what to do, what to do, I had to think fast, but nothing, no solution and still there they were with not a hint of fear in their contenance. I knew, I just knew they could smell the fear scent coming from me and the kids and realized that it was worsening our situation with them, they knew how vulnerable we were right then.
I couldn't help but think will they gore us and trample us with the thought of how many of their kind myself and others had taken from the forest for food on our table and now was there chanve to even that score if even for a small part. Could they even harbour such thoughts?
I looked down at the kids while still keeping these two bucks in my sight line to see that the pugs were stealthily making a slow backwards retreat to better ground using me as their decoy. Oh but could I do the same, that was not to be.
Finally the first buck started moving towards me with a determined look to him, tossing his head from side to side with those massive antlers slashing into nearby tree trunks, gouging large pieces of bark from them as if he were telling me that in moments he would be doing the same to me. I was about to pass out, perhaps that would be better than having to endure being impaled by those spear point horns. Finally he stopped tossing his head, he now was only about 3 feet away, he stopped his feet against the ground hard enough that I could feel the vibrations from the impact. Then he stopped and there was absolute silince, nothing, only our breathing could be heard and mine was quite ragged.
He looked at me long and hard for a few more moments and then said have a nice day, enjoy the lake, don't forget to pick up your litter, and they both went their way.