Lost in the Woods

Lost in the Woods

Hi. Elias Kolsun here. I just wanted to take a few minutes to talk about an experience that I had not too long ago when I was lost in the woods.

It was a beautiful day; crisp and sunny, warm enough to melt the snow covered ground.  I was at peace with myself and the world.  I was nestled in the feeling of comfort, I felt at home in the woods.  I have spent my whole life playing and wandering in my extensive forested back yard and I have come to know that feeling of self-trust, the feeling of knowing who and where I am.  I decided to make the mile trek from my main wilderness camp to the grasslands where I had found moose tracks that morning.  It was dusk when I left my shelter.  By the time I was halfway to the grasslands, the forest became fully dark.  I had become encircled by a dark hemlock forest.

Suddenly my inner peace was shattered by the realization that I had strayed off the trail and was in an area that was totally unfamiliar.  I was lost in the woods. The snow that had clearly defined the trail the day before was completely gone.  I was counting on that snow to be there.  As I walked, the temperature plummeted and the cold front seized the night.  Strong winds had kicked up, and the wet ground was starting to freeze as I walked.  Layers of leaves began to freeze, “crunch, crunch, crunch”.   All of a sudden I was seized with a gut wrenching fear, it grew up inside me and took my whole body over.  My mind started rushing through thoughts like “You’re lost in the woods and you’re never going to get out!” and “you’re going to freeze out here !”

I started to run blindly.  My moccasins were wet and my feet soaked cold from the stream.  I slipped everywhere in a wild panic.  I had totally lost it, tripping and falling into a patch of briars.  I must have looked ridiculous.  With disturbing feelings of humiliation, the voice continued, “you’ll be found by the side of a trail, frozen to death by morning, when you could have just walked out!”  All my learning and experiences to advance my wilderness skills to those of Tom Brown were crashing before me…then all at once, I just stopped.

“Dude!, what the heck are you doing?”, I asked myself.  I had careened 5 feet off course, and in a moment of self-analysis, came to my senses.  “Don’t go any further, be still.”  In that moment I just totally stopped and I got down on my hands and knees.  I couldn’t see the trail, but I could see and feel where the brush had been walked on, a dull and shiny kind of thing.  It was just subtle enough to require presence of mind to see.  It had only been walked on that day and the compressions became revealed to me as I calmed down.  I finally cleared my head, sat down and thought about the situation, as soon as I did, all my fear just melted away.  I realized that there was nothing to be afraid of and that even if I did become lost in the woods, I could hole up for the night and find my way out the next morning.

I have been reflecting on this humbling and powerful lesson and I feel thankful for all the time spent learning subtle tracking distinctions. But even more so for all the sense meditations and awareness exercises that bring stillness of mind and strengthen my connection to what is really present.

Written by Elias Kolsun of Vermont Wilderness School.