Seth, our oldest son, was born prematurely. In an Intensive Care Neonatal Unit for two weeks, then home in isolation for three months with only the parents and grandparents allowed near the baby, it was a scary introduction to parenthood.
Baby monitors weren’t around yet, but we put a walkie talkie in the crib when the baby was sleeping, keeping the other walkie talkie nearby to catch any noises. At weekends, with husband Dan home from work, we’d spell each other during nap times – one going outside for 15 minutes or so while the other parent was on baby alert.
One Sunday afternoon it was my turn to go outside. This was in October, the leaves were beautiful, and I decided to walk to the top of the ridge behind our house. There was no trail, you scrambled up the steep parts the best you could and at the top were rewarded with a beautiful view of the valley. Walking and sliding straight down the ridge you would come to the creek that runs through our property, and would be able to see our backyard.
That day, after enjoying the ridge view for a few minutes, I made my way straight down the ridge, but instead of seeing the creek and our backyard, I saw woods, unfamiliar woods.
A week or so before, an 84-year-old man, lost in the ridges, and in the quickly falling darkness, stepped off a high point and died. With the poor man in mind, I decided to hike back up the ridge, then hike down again, this time paying strict attention.
On the way back up the ridge I noticed a rocky gulch that I knew was on our neighbor’s property. That must have been my mistake, I would veer right going down this time and that would put me back on our property. Second time down, when I reached the creek, there was another ridge on the other side. The third time down there were thick woods on the other side. I don’t know how many times I trekked the ridge, but every time the creek did not end in our backyard.
It was getting dark. I’d been on the ridge for two or more hours. There were no cell phones back then and I knew Dan couldn’t rescue me; neither sets of grandparents were in town to keep the baby.
I didn’t waste energy screaming or crying; I knew I had to get myself out and had no time to waste. On my final descent I crossed the creek, and followed an animal track through the woods, eventually finding myself in a field on the Wilsons’ farm, a place down the road from us. I knew that field had a cave somewhere, accessed via a deep hole which dropped 14 feet to the cave floor. I cautiously walked on, trying to avoid anything that might be the cave’s hole. I finally got to the road and hiked about a mile back to our house. By the time I got home it was dark, I was cold and shaking, and very, very happy to see my family.
Last spring some friends and I hiked the Deep Springs Trail in the Smoky Mountains. That happened to be the day the search was called off for Gordon Kaye, a hiker who had been missing for quite a while. Mr. Kaye’s picture was posted everywhere, the search and rescue team and the volunteers were leaving. It was sad and reminded me of my few hours lost in the woods, remembering how lost and scared I was. That experience was one of the reasons why, back in my teaching days, I used to dismiss the students on Fridays with the words: Folks, be safe, be careful, and make good choices.”
Or, as the old folks used to say, “Ya’ll be careful now, hear?”
Cindy Arp, teacher/librarian, retired from Knox County Schools. She and husband Dan live in Heiskell. And she goes hiking once a week – even in a forest fire.