Sunday, November 8, 2015

Stick Indians

I'm a pretty avid backpacker in the PNW. Sometimes I'll hike for days on end without seeing another person. I think it's exhilarating being completely alone, there's really no feeling like it. You get used to it, but personally I can never help but be on edge. The environment is completely serene and friendly, but there's a constant feeling in the back of your mind, it's hard to put your finger on. Most of the time you'll be chugging along, comfortable in your mind, but when you stop for rest, or to fill up on water, you can't help but look over your shoulder.

Nothing bothers me much out in the woods. I've run into brown bears, had elk trample through camps late at night and much more. But one night was different. I was on a deep backwoods hike, in the late fall off-season. was pretty cold, but the snow hadn't quite started falling yet. I like that. In fact, I usually plan my trips this way. The forest ranger I talked to when I was organizing the trip said I was the only hiker she knew of who'd be up there at the time. I was using dispersed camping sites so far off the beaten path they don't have fire pits. That night was 5 or 6 miles from the trail Into the area. I set up camp at a site about a hundred yards from a a stream, close enough that a faint babbling was audible. I'd lit a fire, cooked dinner, read for a while and was settling down to sleep. I lay listening for a while to the sounds of the woods and the creek. Just as I was nodding off, I think I hear voices. Nothing distinct, no clear words, but clearly a group of people was having a good time, laughing, maybe telling stories around a campfire.

A feeling of dread came over me. I thought: "I shouldn't leave the tent." Fear like I've never felt engulfed me. All the hairs on my arms, legs, and on the back of my neck stood on end. I lay there for a while in panic, the voices carrying on laughing indistinctly. After a while they receded into the background noise. I still didn't leave the tent, I was too afraid.

The next morning after a very short night's sleep, I searched the surrounding area, and the path to the site. The few shoe prints I found were faded and worn around the edges, too old and too few to be from the size of group I'd heard.

I tried to shrug it off as nerves, maybe nervousness got the best of me, but I couldn't shake a certain tension. I made good time to my next site, the last of the trip, looking around a little more than usual. Still nobody to be seen.

That site had no stream. Dry camping isn't a blast, but it's doable if you pack enough water for cooking and drinking for the night. It was a lot quieter, just the chirps of bugs and the wind rustling the trees. I cooked my dinner, and stayed up a good while after dark sitting on a log, looking at the stars and listening to the sounds of the forest, trying to hear the voices from the night before, but there was nothing. I turned in for the night, stretching every act out. I lay there, restless for what felt like hours. Finally, calm comes over me. And the it's back. Nothing threatening or particularly scary, just the sounds of a group of 15-20 having a good time, barely audible above the background noise. This time I'm calm, and there's what seems like an internal dialogue in the back of my mind: 'Why not join them? Sounds like they're having fun.' "I'd really rather stay here." This is entirely unconscious, and goes on for a while. I'd never experienced anything like this. I was worried that I'd lost it. After a time, the noises faded away into the white noise, and I felt that I was alone.

The next day I packed as quickly as I could and got out of Dodge. During the day I was more at ease, like I had always been in the past. I was relieved when I got to the car and started back home.

I told the story a few times, and every time I felt a little of that dread from the first night. I really had no reason to feel strongly about what had happened. I just heard strange noises in the forest, nothing extraordinary, but I felt it.

On one occasion, I told the story my teacher who's native. He got quiet for a minute, then said I had run into stick indians. He said that it was good that I didn't leave the tent. Stick indians are evil and dangerous being that prey on children and women. The look on his face was sober. He told me not to go back to that place again. These spirits are extremely aggressive and attack and kill at the slightest provocation, including even saying their Salish name, which he refused to do.

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