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Lost In The Woods
by [?]

It began to be a question whether I could hold out to walk all night; for I must travel, or perish. And now I imagined that a spectre was walking by my side. This was Famine. To be sure, I had only recently eaten a hearty luncheon: but the pangs of hunger got hold on me when I thought that I should have no supper, no breakfast; and, as the procession of unattainable meals stretched before me, I grew hungrier and hungrier. I could feel that I was becoming gaunt, and wasting away: already I seemed to be emaciated. It is astonishing how speedily a jocund, well-conditioned human being can be transformed into a spectacle of poverty and want, Lose a man in the Woods, drench him, tear his pantaloons, get his imagination running on his lost supper and the cheerful fireside that is expecting him, and he will become haggard in an hour. I am not dwelling upon these things to excite the reader’s sympathy, but only to advise him, if he contemplates an adventure of this kind, to provide himself with matches, kindling wood, something more to eat than one raw trout, and not to select a rainy night for it.

Nature is so pitiless, so unresponsive, to a person in trouble! I had read of the soothing companionship of the forest, the pleasure of the pathless woods. But I thought, as I stumbled along in the dismal actuality, that, if I ever got out of it, I would write a letter to the newspapers, exposing the whole thing. There is an impassive, stolid brutality about the woods that has never been enough insisted on. I tried to keep my mind fixed upon the fact of man’s superiority to Nature; his ability to dominate and outwit her. My situation was an amusing satire on this theory. I fancied that I could feel a sneer in the woods at my detected conceit. There was something personal in it. The downpour of the rain and the slipperiness of the ground were elements of discomfort; but there was, besides these, a kind of terror in the very character of the forest itself. I think this arose not more from its immensity than from the kind of stolidity to which I have alluded. It seemed to me that it would be a sort of relief to kick the trees. I don’t wonder that the bears fall to, occasionally, and scratch the bark off the great pines and maples, tearing it angrily away. One must have some vent to his feelings. It is a common experience of people lost in the woods to lose their heads; and even the woodsmen themselves are not free from this panic when some accident has thrown them out of their reckoning. Fright unsettles the judgment: the oppressive silence of the woods is a vacuum in which the mind goes astray. It’s a hollow sham, this pantheism, I said; being “one with Nature” is all humbug: I should like to see somebody. Man, to be sure, is of very little account, and soon gets beyond his depth; but the society of the least human being is better than this gigantic indifference. The “rapture on the lonely shore” is agreeable only when you know you can at any moment go home.

I had now given up all expectation of finding the road, and was steering my way as well as I could northward towards the valley. In my haste I made slow progress. Probably the distance I traveled was short, and the time consumed not long; but I seemed to be adding mile to mile, and hour to hour. I had time to review the incidents of the Russo-Turkish war, and to forecast the entire Eastern question; I outlined the characters of all my companions left in camp, and sketched in a sort of comedy the sympathetic and disparaging observations they would make on my adventure; I repeated something like a thousand times, without contradiction, “What a fool you were to leave the river!” I stopped twenty times, thinking I heard its loud roar, always deceived by the wind in the tree-tops; I began to entertain serious doubts about the compass,–when suddenly I became aware that I was no longer on level ground: I was descending a slope; I was actually in a ravine. In a moment more I was in a brook newly formed by the rain. “Thank Heaven!” I cried: “this I shall follow, whatever conscience or the compass says.” In this region, all streams go, sooner or later, into the valley. This ravine, this stream, no doubt, led to the river. I splashed and tumbled along down it in mud and water. Down hill we went together, the fall showing that I must have wandered to high ground. When I guessed that I must be close to the river, I suddenly stepped into mud up to my ankles. It was the road,–running, of course, the wrong way, but still the blessed road. It was a mere canal of liquid mud; but man had made it, and it would take me home. I was at least three miles from the point I supposed I was near at sunset, and I had before me a toilsome walk of six or seven miles, most of the way in a ditch; but it is truth to say that I enjoyed every step of it. I was safe; I knew where I was; and I could have walked till morning. The mind had again got the upper hand of the body, and began to plume itself on its superiority: it was even disposed to doubt whether it had been “lost” at all.