“What kind of beast is your salamander?” asked the Prince. “It is hard to tell their kind, your Honor,” said Golg. “For they are too…
I knew I needed rest, but I wasn’t fully aware of how exhausted I’d become. Five days in the wilderness made that patch of soft grass under the sweet butterscotch scented Jeffrey pine look mighty inviting for a short siesta. However, my afternoon nap must have turned into two or three hours, because when I awoke it was just past sunset. I exorcised the sleep from my body with a routine of cat-stretches and was beginning to rub the sleep from my eyes when suddenly I was startled by a rapid movement to my left.
My attention was peripherally drawn to a moonlit image of claws swiping at the backpack that was serving as my headrest. “RRRRRRIIIPPP”! The gortex gaped open. I turned quickly enough to see “IT” scampering off into the darkness, a small dwarfish shape. My mind’s eye imprinted a vision of hair, a great abundance of hair or fur. It was a frightening sight. I felt no desire to pursue, but what I had seen was real. Real as the gash in my pack!
My senses have witnessed many strange, yet often explainable things in the mountains, but this specter defied understanding. Scared? Hell yes! What mystery was out there still, lurking in the dark woods?
Daylight was most welcome when it came. I sutured the rip in my pack and hoisted the fifteen pounds (I have always been able to sustain myself on very little). Making brisk time that day, my descent into the King River canyon was arduous, but trouble free.
I located an inviting campsite by the river, gathered kindling, and, with the aid of a Vaseline-treated cotton ball, I fired up my solo stove. I enjoyed a meal of soup, crackers, tea, and red chili jerky. As dusk came, I crawled into my sleeping bag. It was only then, gazing at the heavens, that l began to cogitate on the past day’s freak occurrence. Slowly fatigue set in and I drifted off.
AAAAAWWWWWWW! a scream and a weight on my body and a flurry of activity! RRIIPP, RRIIPP, RRRIIIP, it was clawing at my bag, this same nightmare creature! Its face was hair, its teeth and claws like daggers stabbing and shredding and spreading down feathers in a crazed explosion of malicious mayhem.
I grabbed for my knife. The creature screamed again, leaped off my bag and fled! It felt like it took me an hour to free myself from my mummy prison. Sock-footed I scampered a hundred yards in the direction this loathsome intruder had run. Nothing, just stillness.
The following day I repaired my bag. My sense of fear and confusion was being replaced by anger and resolve. Whatever was terrorizing me must be stopped. I then began to devise a plan. Perhaps I could trap, then kill this horrible entity. I must try. I would not and never will be victimized, unless by love, but that’s another story.
My plan was simple. The diminutive size of the little monster gave me confidence I could use a modified snare. Since the bait appeared to be me, crowbait as it were, I would make myself available. Why this creature seemed intent on destroying my equipment, I knew not, but I laid everything out that night. Strewn ’round the circumference of my teepee-style Chouinard tent was a poncho, back-pack, food-pack, and extra clothing. Nearby I had rigged the snare, using a light but strong nylon rope. I would simply sit quietly, in my tent, and wait.
The night sky was clouded over and there was the scent of rain. The moon hidden in the darkness was ominous and foreboding. Near midnight the storm came. The rain fell in heavy sheets ‘neath black pillows of thunderous clouds blown by a prevailing norther. “Go ahead, make my bed!” l thought. I remained dry and warm in my tent, with my walking staff as support, and was actually comforted by the ferocity of the storm. I suspected that perhaps my tormentor would choose not to venture out in such a deluge.
Wrong! The aspen branch that I had used to anchor the snare snapped! “AAAAAWWWWWW!” There was that blood-curdling sound again! At this moment, my Da was my weapon of choice. With the Da in one hand, a flashlight in the other and the knife in my teeth, I bolted through the flap of the tent!
My trap had worked. The small, struggling dwarf-like terror had become my prey! I held the Da and prepared to decapitate the little wretch when it suddenly uttered “NO PLEASE!”
It spoke! What kind of demon trick was this? The little devil was suspended upside down and pleading for its life. I shined the light into the hirsute visage and was shocked to recognize the features of a small man.
“I was only after food,” he said. “I have been living alone in these mountains for forty years and must scavenge all I can.”
“Why did you tear apart my equipment?” I demanded.
“Because I am the Tehipiti Tearer,” he responded. “I am a tearer, not a terror, tearing things is what I do!”
I began to feel compassion for this clever punster and released him. We made a raging fire and feasted on Sierra Club potato cakes and cheese biscuits with sesame seeds.
After an hour of good food and conversation I asked the Terror why he found it necessary to be so destructive, which was indeed the reason he had chosen to live away from society all these years.
He answered simply, “T’ERROR IS HUMAN!”
God, I love a good pun.
A Da is a backpacking tool. It has a sharpened edge that can be used like an axe. It also is wider on the end so it can be used to dig holes for covering up your personal business in the mountains. It is about 2 feet long (maybe 4 inches wide at the tip and three inches next to the handle) including the handle, which [toolmaker] Kenny LaDuke always wrapped with an emergency nylon cord (this made for a better grip too. I think it’s origins are Thai). A very handy addition for any backpacker.
By Dan Crow