By Frank Vincentz (Own work) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html) or CC BY-SA 3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons (Modified)
I suppose it is a sign of getting older—ruminating over past events and wondering about what really happened as opposed to what you want to believe happened. And this one is strange. Indeed, it rivals High Strangeness in the Hudson Valley.
First, let me explain, I am a total novice in the woods and I realize that. Born in the suburbs, I have pretty much stayed in the suburbs except for jaunts here and there on well-marked trails. Never overnight. Always with others, except this one time.
We were with a group of women, maybe 20-25. It was an “encampment” led by a Native American elder and a college professor. We were in a National Park, somewhere in upper New Mexico or lower Colorado. (I wish I could remember exactly where.)
Although somewhat hampered by pain in her legs, the professor decided to walk a short 2-3 mile loop up a mountain and back down again. This was in keeping with her abilities. She had done this sort of thing many times.
When it came time for her to meet up with the group again, she did not emerge from the woods. An hour passed, maybe a bit more, so I decided to walk the loop from where she should have re-joined us.
It was a fairly steep climb up the trail, but no harder than the hikes my sister and I had taken. Every 100 feet or so, I would turn to be sure I saw the trail marker going back the way I came. If there might be confusion or the markers were hard to see, I did stone piles pointing the direction. Remember, I am barely more than a novice in the woods and knowing that may have saved me that day.
After maybe half an hour, I crested a steep part of the trail and that is when things got weird. Really weird. I heard nothing—no insects, no scurrying animals, nothing. But more than that, I could not focus my eyes—or my brain for that matter.
The top of the ridge was flat with only a few spindly trees and shrubs to mark out a circle of, well…. I can only say it was light. With a glare that hurt my eyes. It “twinkled” like sun through leaves swaying in a breeze. But there was no breeze.
I looked back and could see my last stone marker and, even closer, the trail marker leading me back down.
Feeling safer, I ventured a few steps into the clearing and found myself disoriented. Was it the odd movements of light and shadow? I checked the sun and thought I’d have to go back soon—the last thing I wanted was get caught on the trail after dark. The sun seemed to be lowering toward the horizon much faster than I had expected.
I took a few more steps. Things seemed to fuzz in and out. Distortions. I tried to take a “reading” of the area, using all my senses. No sound, air crisp, no breeze, no warmth to the sun. But to my left where I thought the sun was going down,I saw that the small trees and scrub brush looked distorted as in a funhouse mirror. All the strangeness seemed to emanate from that one area, maybe 5 or 6 feet off the ground.
My eyes? Was the odd light affecting my vision?
And what was that odd rhythmic clacking I now heard? No, a tinkling clacking. Hypnotic. I wanted to look around for the source but I just could not focus on any one spot. I remembered having heard something similar on a trail once before, but it was dried seedpods blowing in the breeze. This was different. To this day I think the sound may have been in my head. It was too distant and yet right there inside me. And definitely hypnotic.
Maybe at the other side of the clearing, I reasoned, things would focus again.
I took two more steps—that was when not only nervous caution, but my common sense kicked in. I had no business being in the woods alone, let alone “braving” something I did not know. I turned to leave.
I saw a path in front of me and I made a beeline for it. I held onto the tree with the trail marker until my eyes focused and I saw my stone pile just ahead, reassuring me this was the way I came.
The eeriness followed me down the trail. Several times I looked back over my shoulder to find the same disorienting light behind me, the same eerie quiet, but at least the clacking in my head had stopped.
I would have run, but I had the good sense to know if I slipped on the loose stones beneath my feet I would fall and be in really serious trouble. (Well, maybe not a complete novice, but still….)
I reached the bluff overlooking the spot where the rest of the group was waiting. I waved my arms, someone spotted me, and the group waved back. Only then did the unease leave me. Only then did the sun look normal in the sky above me.
So what happened up there? Well, at the time I thought it was a trick of light and shadow as the sun was going down. But it was its normal self in the sky when I reached the lower bluff. Yet it had seemed as if the sun was blinding me from behind the funhouse distortion that caused my eerie disorientation. The noise? Heightened awareness, I decided. I was scaring myself silly because I knew I had no business so far out in a strange woods by myself.
So, the other day I was knitting and listening to an interview with David Paulides—you know—the guy with the Missing 411 books about all the strange disappearances in the national parks. In his most recent book, he has a story from a woman who IS an expert in the woods, who has the knowledge and skill to be in the woods alone. One evening she was in her deer blind and saw what can best be described as a scene from The Predator, the scene where the predator is perceived as a distortion in the surrounding.
That was what I saw to my left, where I tried to reason that the sun was filtering through the trees causing the funhouse mirror effect. (No, I do not think the predator was after me.) My experience was different, however, in that the entire top of that ridge was also a bit out of focus—not just one spot, and I heard the clacking sound where her experience remained totally quiet.
David Paulides talked about his own odd experience in the woods. He was with a seasoned hunter when everything went dead quiet—unnaturally quiet. (And, of course, I knew how eerie—scary eerie—that can be.) The two men sat on opposite sides of a tree, presumably with their backs against the tree. Apparently they saw nothing. It reminded me of how I grabbed onto the tree before my vision focused again. Was the tree some sort of anchor?
Now people have many different theories about the Missing 411 people. There is no sign of animal predation—no blood, no torn clothing, no destruction of backpacks, tents, or other equipment, so thoughts naturally (or maybe super-naturally) go to things like Bigfoot abductions, UFO abductions, time portals. Indeed, often the person has shed their clothes (and shoes—even I, the novice, would NEVER do that) and left everything neatly folded or maybe inside-out on a rock.
There are cases in cities, so Bigfoot seems to have an alibi—he was in the woods.
And people do get lost in the woods, but not like the cases he reports, not without leaving a scent for dogs to follow or other evidence that makes sense.
That leaves UFOs and portals to other dimensions for explanations. Now I am not a big fan of nuts and bolts UFOs with bio-robotic occupants, so this leaves portals. But, it is reasonable to think that portals would swallow groups as well as individuals–and the missing seem to be single individuals. Not groups, but single individuals who have gone ahead of or fallen behind their group.
Safety in numbers, that is the obvious explanation if you are dealing with a predator. But there are no signs of predation. So what if it is some sort of portal to one of the other dimensions that physicists postulate?
For a long time I have thought somehow our conscious perception is at the bottom of it all. On a very mundane level, if you change how you perceive a situation, then you change how you react to. When you react differently, others around you react to your reaction—they react differently as well because you have changed their perception of the situation. For instance, someone perceives you as hostile, but you act open and friendly. Many times that will change their perception of you and they will be more open themselves. They will give you a chance. (Indeed, I think this is The Secret to Life.)
Taking that a step further, people who claim to have paranormal experiences expect these experiences and react to their environment as if they will have them. And they do. But this does not happen as much in the presence of others who do not share in their world-view, who do not act as if the paranormal is normal.
This, to me, indicates that the world—reality— as we know it is held in place by a consensus of the sum total of our beliefs.
So back to the lone person on the trail. Without group interaction, without group consensus about how the world operates, about reality, is the lone person more susceptible to a change of consciousness, one that will alter their perceptions, one that will allow them to see into another dimensions? That, certainly, would explain why whole groups are not running into portals and disappearing.
Here is the basic question: does it come from within or without? Did I create the weirdness on the ridge or was it already there?
Our missing professor was brought out safe and sound by park rangers. Like most people missing in the woods, she was fine.