The first time I was lost in the forest, I was seven years old. Snows had piled over a foot high, sapping my strength as I trudged. I don't remember much more than the emotions: first determination, then concern, then panic, then finally hysteria. Eventually, some guy found me.
The second time, I was closer to thirty. Of course, it took quite a while to discover I was lost. That's how it gets you. The false sense of direction leads you so deep that when you realize the truth, there's no way back.
Being much older and level-headed, the second time gave me an opportunity to reflect. As I tried to pick a straight path (which was forever foiled by boulder fields, downed trees, gullies), I understood my original fear had imprinted on my psyche. The way I attack the forest, ignore the paths, strike out on my own--I'm proving to myself I'm no longer afraid.
My rational self, navigating by the sun and tracing along interwoven ridges, was quite pleased with the insight. Perhaps the little gnawing in my stomach would disappear each time I prepare to plunge into a new forest.
I plodded on. I applied all the lessons (except bringing a compass, of course). I laid lines of sight, then was forced to correct, and correct, and correct around the obstacles. Then, just shy of an hour later, I arrived at a familiar point, very close to where I first realized I was lost. I had walked one large circle.
The seven-year-old fear flooded back. Two more hours of daylight left. After that, I would be swallowed by the kind of darkness only a forest knows.
Luckily, I found my way out an hour later with the help of some mountain bikers I flagged down on a firebreak road. My truck never looked so good.
So, it's true. Left without guidance, whether due to uneven gait, tilted perceptions, or a quirk of the brain, everyone will tend to wander in a circle. I know the size of my forest circle--what it encompasses, what it contains.
Do you know yours?
(Overcoming the fear, and buying a GPS, has its benefits. One autumn day, I stumbled upon the view pictured above on the top of Second Mountain, Pennsylvania)