It was a calm, almost eerie vibe when we got to Yankee Springs, Michigan. Just before 6:00pm, the sun was holding it’s last high in the sky before it’s evening decent. I was working to pitch tent and get camp set up for the night. Being the only person in this part of the park all you could hear was the wind bustling through the trees, Duke’s occasional crush of a leaf or twig on his nose to the ground survey of the surroundings and the loud railroad style ping of me driving metal tent stakes into the earth.
Being that there were about 15 open sites to choose from, I picked the most central. Majority of them were in a circular ring around the campsite but there was one in the middle, we’ll take that one for sure. Central under an open canopy of trees we’d have a gorgeous view of the starry night sky.
It was moments after realizing this solitude I started hearing the rolling, popping sound of tires humming up the gravel road. Seconds later I saw a ford ranger, carrying a park ranger. Appropriate. “Heyy bud,” he hollered out the window in a soft voice, leading like he had to say something he didn’t want to. Crouched and continuing to stake my pins I replied, “What’s up man?”
“You know this is equestrian club members only, you can’t camp here without a horse or a horse trailer.” Well push my buttons then. That type of societal privilege enforcement has always rubbed me the wrong way. There’s not a soul around me to be bothered on this God given land we’re enjoying and you’re gonna tell me I can’t camp here because I don’t have a horse trailer? Ok bud.
I slowly moved my head around at all the empty sites like an owl, and then back to Duke. “He’s the only horse I’ve got, we’re only here for the night anyways.” I looked back down, driving in one of the last pins. After a fun and tiring day I’m minutes from decompressing and enjoying it, I’m not packing all this up and going somewhere else. He sat there for a moment. “Ohh yea okay I guess if it’s just you and the dog it’s alright for the night.” Thanks bud, for your permission to drive into the woods where there is no other human and sleep on the earth. Preciate you.
Being a Kentucky boy at heart, I’m used to commotion in the woods. Squirrels, chipmunks, cardinals, deer, you name it. Mostly peaceful animals you don’t have much to worry about out there. It’s a beautiful place. That’s why I found it so eerie that there was nothing to be heard. At times complete silence. The foreshadowing alarm didn’t go off for me like it is you. Once we were set up, the sun was setting. With nothing but my thoughts I chose to show thanks for the safe trip and appreciate my spirit animals through the fire.
Nearly an hour had gone by when I regained thoughtfulness. The black of night had begun rising from the forest floor and the fire had diminished to lighter flames. Exhausted, I plopped down in my lawn chair and guzzled gulps of jugged spring water. Heavenly.
I remember vividly it was as I leaned over to sit the jug back down I heard, “snap.” Definitely some stick or branch a little behind us and to the left. It was distanced off in the woods a bit though, sounded at least 20 yards into the tree line.
I’d been gone a while so I got down to show some love to Duke Nukems. Living the luxurious life he does he has his own round, double layered, plush bed that goes with the caravan. You wouldn’t want to lie on your knees and elbows in the woods would ya? When he’s knocked he’s either curled up in it like a crescent moon or lying on his back, legs up like a dead possum (as I wrote this he baited the three women you see pictured with his ‘possum’, stud.). Dudes a BIG fan of belly rubs. He lives the life.
Another minute goes by as I’m paying attention to bubs, “crunch.” Distinctly leaves being crushed this time, not a stick. The floor bed was covered with leaves, gotta be the squirrel or chipmunk I haven’t seen yet I said to myself. I sat back down relaxing as the memory foam filled the curves of my lumbar. Ahh, that’s nice.
It had been a fun, long day. Duke and I made the drive into Michigan that morning and hit a marijuana dispensary to pick up a nice, fruity sativa love for whatever hike ended up calling our name (and obviously some indica for that night fire, oh boi!). I love stopping at the place that calls your name when you pass it. Those often end up more exciting than the planned ones. Lone behold a couple miles into the random trail we found, we stumbled upon a creek fed reservoir. Like a mini waterfall it dropped its flow into a cratered rock pool and then trickled down the otherside of it back into the creek. It was filtered well and clear water four feet to the bottom. If you’ve never found a spring or tub like this to have to yourself, PUT IT ON YOUR LIST! There’s a sensationally unique feeling you get. I can’t really compare it to anything else. From the drive, to the hike, to the plunge, to the tent, we were pooped.
I should have used ‘SNAP, CRACKLE AND POP’ but I enjoy genuine details. “CRUNCH!” The third one was the first loud one I remember. I remember it well because that’s when I ruled out coincidence and started realizing that’s actually moving over here. I let my mind wander a bit. AKA fear started to creep in the back of my head. Oh shit, that’s a bear! That was my initial thought. I typically research an area some before I camp there, though it makes for a real thrill when you don’t! But before going to Yankee Springs I took a look at some bear recording maps online. I was in a part of Michigan that wasn’t overwhelmed but would certainly have a bear population. I vividly account reading mountain lion sightings were rare. I repeat, mountain lion sightings are rare. It has to be a bear.
A minute later, “SNAP!” another stick broke. This thing is really bringing its ass over here! Originally starting behind me and to my left, they were progressing forward, more central to my left ear. Duke was laying crescent mode in his bed at my feet. To my left.
Wait a minute though, I’ve heard bears. They’re loud! Their breathing is often heavy and when they’re sniffing you out you can hear it thru the long snout they have. I’ve seen one up close during the day and I’ve had one come directly up to my tent at night. You might sneak up on a black bear but typically they won’t sneak up on you. ‘That’s not a bear’ I confirmed to myself. My mind wandered more. AKA I started getting edgy. Am I provoking these thoughts of fear from my conscious due to conditioning and association, or are they ‘fight or flight’ inherent emotions beginning to take over? I enjoy dissecting it in the moment. I know that you can deflect fear, as you can any other thought or emotion. Another will take its place. I’ve looked death in the eyes and turned away from it. Once you get over the fear of death your whole world changes.
Every 45 seconds to a minute like clockwork, “CRUNCH” inching closer to my left peripheral. Had I chosen one of the tents along the perimeter we’d already be bumping fuzzies. The centered spot where we set up was about 20 yards from the tree line. There’s no doubt at a buzzing campsite I’d have never heard this stealth walk, but in that night’s silence I heard it all.
It was like the interaction was meant to take place. Me having this campsite to myself, mountain lions being rare where I was at, the stillness of the woods. Hmm, it’s like he was called. Nothing was going to sneak up on us out in the open though, we’d hear it coming. Eventually the creep walk stopped. Whatever beast it may be was now directly to our left, less than 20 yards from Duke.
I’d put more wood on the fire and it was snapping at a strong pace. Duke was unconsciously knocked. It was just the beast and me. The flames lit well enough to see the landscape that surrounded us all the way to the start of the trees. To our left where the noise was coming from was a thick brush of weeds all 2-3 feet tall, maybe 15 yards in width lining our perimeter. Not knowing what to expect I turned on the flashlight and shined it to the left side of the brush where I thought the noise stopped. Nothing. Shew. Relief!
In the next second it took me to move the light towards the right of the brush, boom. There they were. Just under the height of the tallest weeds were two glowing yellow eyes staring unwaveringly right back at me. My Adam’s apple dropped and came back tighter than it left. I had an 8-inch buoy knife at the ready. Whipped it out quicker than a priest at a kid’s camp.
Is it locked on me? It’s looking at Duke. The first two thoughts to rush my mind. My parental genes kick in. I’m going out with my boy before any beast ever takes him. Cash that at the bank on Sunday.
A long, deep breath in and out calms the mind. Exodus any fears. Let’s do this. We stared at each other. Maybe three minutes went by and I swear the eyes never blinked. Never moved. They stayed exactly the same like twin yellow orbs floating in the woods next to each other. I could feel his or her fearlessness. I could truly feel it, this is a lion.
“I see you over there.” I said in a calm, outdoor voice. Duke’s head shot up like a prairie dog. Sleeping beauty had no clue of our acquaintance. He just glanced at me understanding the edge, perked his ears up and looked the same direction. His left. “Yea I see you over there!” I hollered louder. We sat there like rocks in a dry creek bed.
I stood up holding the branch I used as a fire poker, raised it over my head and swayed it back and forth trying to make myself look as big as possible. “It ain’t gonna be us pal!” I yelled, standing there expecting some response. Blink, run away, fucking attack me. Do something! Quit tightening my sphincter. It was becoming more apparent to me this large cat wasn’t going anywhere.
This SOB was determined to wait it out until it had the kill shot it was looking for. Probably Duke, possibly me. I started weighing legitimate odds. Sit there staring and go into hour two of teasing death, or make the 10-yard move with Duke to the SUV. I chose the wiser of the two. Being that we were under 20 yards from each other that cat could be taking its leap on Duke before you complete the count of ‘one thousand one.’ I was very mindful of that. Being that there were two of us though, I expected the only way it leaps out is if it has a kill shot on one of us, separated. If Duke gets up and starts walking off we’re probably in the gladiator ring.
I used to have such an apprentice mindset towards these situations. Weary and unsure. It’s different now. You’re not the only alpha, kitty. If it forces the issue I’m coming out wearing a fur coat and dangling teeth from a necklace. That said, let’s make this move Duke.
He’s as obedient as they come. We’ve had enough exhilarating escapades in the woods he knows when he can venture and when to stay by my side. “Aye, come on.” I started walking sideways to the left and eventually back stepping towards the car, Duke connected to my shins. The split moment we started moving, the eyes were gone.
I heard the lion’s steps just as loud as ours now. Much more careless than before “SNAP.” “CRUNCH.” “SNAP.” It started walking left along the brush with us, ready to snatch its patiently awaited dinner. I kept the flashlight shining but somehow didn’t see the eyes again, I could hear it crystal clear though. That shit was twice as fear inducing.
As I popped the tailgate Duke hopped right in. I closed it and felt my way backwards along the side of the car to the driver’s door and hopped in. That two to three seconds was the kinda rush I’m out here living for now. I’ve never felt so alive. I rolled the windows down a few inches, sat there and never heard a noise again. Gone or still stalking, I’m not sure. Confrontation was avoided in the whip.
I rolled a blunt thicker than a moose leg, popped the sunroof and appreciated the rush. Never been on a ride like that before. My heart raced on in the car for a while. What a fucking experience. That starry night sky seemed as glittery as any I’d seen. Maybe it was just perspective.
Hope you enjoyed. All love!
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