I had been working way too many hours and was in the midst of a nasty breakup during the spring of last year. I really was craving some time alone, so I decided to spend a long weekend hiking about and camping in the Emeralda Marsh forest. I made it home about noon on a Friday and grabbed some basic gear and invited along my only friend it seemed at the time; my Jack Russel terrier, Tank.
I parked in the designated area, loaded my gear onto my back and Tank and I headed out. We weren’t covering many miles in any record time, rather we just strolled along soaking up the clear skies and beauty of our surroundings. I carried my phone along to use the camera for a few photos from time to time, early flower blossoms opening, wading birds, unusual tree formations, even a turtle.
That evening, well before nightfall, I pitched the tiny tent on a slight rise of higher ground that had a high canopy of oak limbs and an open grassy area. I kindled a small fire and warmed some dehydrated camp meals I had brought and Tank and I ate well; he preferring to wash his down from a clean puddle and I from a bottle of Gatorade carried along in my pack. The mosquitoes arrived eventually, so we zipped ourselves into the tent and settled in to listen to the beauty of the night.
I had no idea how long I slept, but was awakened by quiet whimpering sounds of Tank, near my feet and shivering. I pulled him up close to me in the dark and talked to him while hugging him closely until his shivering again ceased and we could fall back asleep. Deep into the night I once again awakened by deep growls and gnashing of teeth from my terrified terrier.
I grabbed my phone to illuminate the tent, but the battery had finally drained and it wouldn’t turn on. I called to him, grabbed him into a big hug and sat up calming him for a very long time. I was certain it must have been a raccoon or some sort of critter rustling outside of our tent that had gotten him so riled up, he simply wouldn’t return to sleep and I tried hard to doze off again, but was unsuccessful. Eventually, the sun rose, Tank calmed considerably and once the morning light was sufficient, we rose from the sleeping bag, had the last of our granola bars for breakfast and quickly packed up camp to begin our hike back out to my truck.
The morning passed uneventfully and by mid-afternoon, I was stowing away my gear and Tank was sound asleep in his doggy-bed. Taking a seat on the couch, I took out my newly charged phone to go through my pictures from the camping trip, thinking of posting a few on my social media pages. I deleted a few, edited a few and selected a few I would later share, but the last photo on my phone stopped me cold. I studied it in silence as I felt an icy sweat break out across my body and I looked quickly to Tank, curled up asleep.
What I saw in that last photo on my phone has made me swear that I will never enter the Emeralda Swamp again! In the photo, I could see myself asleep in my sleeping bag, inside of the tent and there shrunk into the corner of the tent, crouched down, teeth barred and seemingly ready to attack, was Tank, eyes widened in terror!
As always, if you have any questions or comments on this week’s column, feel free to reach out to me at [email protected]. God bless, good hunting and Happy Halloween!