Lessons From Piss Ant Flat
A blast from the past has arisen due to a discussion on Facebook PCT Class of 2014 about how best to deal with wild animals when confronted by them on the trail or in camp. My usual advice is to stay still and they will lose interest, but if you are really in the moment with your body’s understanding, you will know exactly what to do in the moment.
This is a longish story but I think brings a lot of the me-ness to where I’m coming from with this whole PCT thing that has grabbed me in my advanced years :). The story begins with the root cause of my back problems…
Here it is, my little story, Lessons From Piss Ant Flat:
“If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives; Be kind anyway.”-Mother Teresa
I suppose I was 13 years old that year. I was at Girl Scout Camp. Three of us, with one leader, decided to take a back pack trip which was to last several days. We thought it was a really good idea, due to the quantity of supplies we would need for such a long trip, to take a pack animal along to do the heavy hauling. I don’t know if the leader had any experience in handling pack animals but in hindsight I would say, NOT.
So we had this burro who thought it was a really bad idea to be treated as a pack animal. He was okay for the first morning but saw his opportunity in the early afternoon to rid himself of the pack as we were traversing a steep slope. He simply lay down and rolled over and over and over down the hill as we stood by in shock, totally helpless to do anything at all. This was a very successful ploy on his part as it spread the contents of the pack over a huge, nearly inaccessible area, broke the pack saddle, and freed him to run at large in the wilderness.
It took us a few hours to catch him and put everything back in some semblance of order, but finally it was sorted and off we went again. The burro continued his anti pack behaviour over the course of the trip and we were exhausted by the time we were on the last leg of the journey back. We certainly wished we had just taken heavier packs ourselves rather than this pugnacious animal.
Of course on the last day we encountered that same hill again. We made it almost to the top (crossing fingers all the way) when that ASS – yes he was an ASS by that time – did it again! Our endurance by then was at a very low ebb. Perhaps I was not paying attention but at some point in the repacking process I was behind the animal and got kicked. It sent me several feet in the air over the steep slope then off I went tumbling down to the bottom of the hill. My back was badly hurt – it’s an injury that still plagues me to this day. The rest of the day was a nightmare for me but one of the girls helped me out to the highway while the others stayed behind to repack the ass and carry the gear out. People were very kind to me.
Several weeks later a larger group of us were on another pack trip, this time I remember the destination well – Piss Ant Flat. The first night we were sitting around the campfire after a long day on the trail, when one of the girls became quite ill. It was decided that she should be taken back to camp with one leader and a volunteer. I really didn’t want to leave – we hadn’t even got to Piss Ant Flat yet and I was really curious to see what a place with such a name was like! But I was so grateful for the kindness that I had received on the last trip I volunteered to help get the sick girl out. It was a long night of hiking then hitching a ride once we reached the highway, but I felt warm hearted about helping and was happy to do it.
The next morning back at camp there was a debriefing. Apparently the leader we had come out with had reported that I was eager to come back to camp with the sick girl. It was put to me that perhaps I had been too eager. Perhaps I hadn’t wanted to continue with the trip. Perhaps this was further proof I was a malingerer, which they had suspected when I was hurt on the first trip.
I was stunned! I told them I had felt gratitude for being treated with kindness when I had needed it and just wanted to repay that kindness in some way. They were skeptical. More than skeptical. I couldn’t believe that anyone could so misunderstand me.
And now I say WHO CARES WHAT MY MOTIVE WAS ANYWAY!
I always loved Scout Camp and all the leaders. Being there was a way to escape a less than pleasant home life for a month or so each summer and I appreciated everything about it. But these were really unkind cuts. I never held a grudge about that – at least I don’t recall even thinking about it after that day. And I’ve seen the Mother Teresa quote quite often without it eliciting anything but a nod. Today though, for some reason that old tired quote struck me, as these things sometimes do, with this memory package, nicely wrapped, neat and tidy, fully illustrating from my own life, the truth of what Mother Teresa said. I think that experience was the one that inoculated me against the hurt that comes from the unkind judgments of others. I am grateful.
“The part of that trip I remember is when you hissed at the badger!”
Thirty seven years later Mrs Wood, her daughter Rebecca and I were sitting around their kitchen table renewing our old friendship. We got to talking about that trip with the reluctant pack animal and laughing at some of our adventures. Probably the funniest part of the trip had to do with our language. Rebecca and I, with the leadership of her mom, and the inspiration of the ass’s behaviour, added quite a lot of color and flavor to our nice Utah girl vocabularies. Anna though, refused to succumb to our low level. She was such a lady! Still, after an especially bad incident with our resourceful pack escape artist, even she succumed. She looked that animal right in the eye and said with a great deal of fire, “Bad Burro!!!”
Strangely, to me, neither Rebecca nor her mom remembered my hurtling down the hill propelled from the heels of our wilful pack animal. No. Mrs. Wood said, “The part of that trip I remember is when you hissed at the badger!”
It wasn’t a part of the trip I had remembered at all, focused as I was on the lifetime of grief that kick down the hill caused, but slowly, slowly, the memory swam back to the surface.
The four of us, Mrs. Wood, Rebecca, Anna and I, plus of course the ass, were negotiating a switchback in the trail and inadvertently cornered a badger. It hissed ferociously at us and we were petrified. It was pretty clear that if anyone moved we might be in big trouble. Then, with a stroke of just knowing, I knew exactly what to do. I lunged to within two feet of that badger’s nose and hissed even more ferociously than he was hissing.
He found his own way out of the situation immediately!
That may have been my first really effective experience with animal communication!