Lost in the Woods: A New Perspective
Readers of The Confluence will recall David Klinges' story, The Fallen Soldier about a dramatic search for an older man lost in the woods. Klingon's story was a winner from the start, but what really made it was the addition of an accounting of the same events from the perspective of the man's fishing buddies, his best friends for many decades. We extracted their story from the cabin log book and printed it with their permission. It was fascinating to contrast their account with our memories.
Last summer, I stumbled across a Word document on my laptop entitled Grant Story. I have no recollection of producing it, but was delighted to find that it was my own account of the soldier story. It was dated June 15, 2008, the Sunday after that momentous trip. I'm usually exhausted when I get home from the Grant. Clearly the experience had a significant impact on me, given that the first thing I did upon my return was to write it down. My write up adds interesting color to the story and contains details that no one could have recalled after almost a decade and some truly funny elements of the tension-filled experience.
Due to a minor screwup, we ended up staying at Gate Camp which is located about a mile into the Grant, and, more relevantly, houses the Grant’s only communication device, and old payphone that still works. Late Friday afternoon, Ralph Manual (fresh from his 50th and on his 34th annual trip) showed up with his buddy Dave Bradley to use the phone. One of their party had not been at the noon rendezvous point, and they were just starting to panic. They had been searching throughout the afternoon for Fred, a 72 year old physician suffering from Parkinson’s and showing some signs of mental impairment.
State Troopers and Fish & Game officers started arriving soon after. It was literally the most activity we’d ever seen in the Grant starting then and through the night. About half our crew joined in the search for an hour or two (I pulled the short straw and got to stay home and make dinner). Our guys came back around 8:30 and reported no progress. It was a real mystery; where could the guy have disappeared without a trace? He’s been last seen on a big flat outcropping with deep water on either side, and although he had a reputation knowing the Grant like the back of his hand and (even Parkinson’s impaired) for walking all over the place, we were all pretty convinced he’d gone in the drink. On the other hand they police had probed into those pools and verified that there was no body there nor caught up in a beaver dam a few hundred yards downstream.
We were just wrapping up dinner with Ralph and Dave showed up again. They’d decided it was time to call their wives…and then Fred’s. She handled it great and apologized for his screwing up their fishing trip. The guys were clearly shook. We poured them a bourbon, and spent a few hours shooting the sherbet. Ralph is a great raconteur, and it was clearly therapeutic for him to reminisce with great tales of old Dartmouth, President Dickey teaching him to fish, his trip to the site of the Mann Gulch fire and sundry other topics as we sat on the porch watching the dog teams and infrared-equipped search helicopters arrive. Certainly Fred and his disappearance occupied much of the discussion as well, and as the guys loosened up bit, it became clear that they hypothesized that Fred, despondent with his declining state, might have opted out of a slow decline in favor of checking out quickly from the place he loved more than any. “God rest his soul,” Ralph said, at one point, nervously adding, “…if need be.” At just after midnight when the guys headed back to their cabin, we were all pretty convinced that’s the way this would play out.
The happy ending came at 2am when they returned to report that the dogs have found Fred, alive in the woods. They’d not seen him, but had been awoken by the caretaker who indicated that he was fine, though he would be taken to the hospital to get checked out. “Now we’re fuckin’ pissed,” Ralph chuckled. They immediately call Fred’s wife and theirs with the good news. They didn’t stick around long, but sleep remained fleeting as search vehicles and the ambulance were still back and forth for the next couple hours.
We haven’t got the final details, but presumably Fred is fine. Although there is still at least one unresolved issue as Ralph and Dave have sworn they aren’t bringing “that asshole” back to the Grant.