Too Far to Wander: The Tale and Journal of a Wayward Student

Posted by David

(This is a story I wrote a number of years ago for classrooms visiting North Cascades National Park. I was asked to republish it here. Have fun.)

This tale begins midway through a classroom expedition into the North Cascades wilderness. For the most part, all of the students are being safe, learning about science and enjoying nature—all except one. And this student was about to make a big mistake.Night Sky

Mr. Davis, the science teacher and guide on the expedition is explaining a bit about astronomy, let’s listen in.


Revolving Around the Light –
Part 1

Thus, because he demonstrated that the earth, in fact, revolved around the sun and that Ptolemy was incorrect by saying that the entire universe revolved around a static, immobile earth, Copernicus is not only considered to be the father of modern astronomy, he is also thought by some to be the most pivotal figure in modern thought…

And with that I had all I could take. I had to escape. My class had been out for two days, shuffling along muddy trails and enduring lecture after lecture from Mr. Davis. I was so bored and my mushy, gushy, slimy socks were giving me prune feet. Mr. Copernicus’ sun teased us each evening with sunsets, but hid its face behind the clouds by day; never giving us a moment to dry out our socks. Mr. Davis said that if we put our wet socks inside our sleeping bags at night they would dry out by morning. Neither I, nor any of the other eight students, had dared to try that—nasty!

Although the sky still had a deep blue glow, in the shadows of the fir trees it had become dark enough that I could slip away without being noticed by that curly, gray-haired, bearded, verbose slave-driver. Knowing full well that I was in the wrong, I discreetly backed away from the group and walked down the trail, feeling for its edges with my boots until I got far enough away that I could switch on my headlamp without detection. I walked a good ways down the trail through the shadowy Pacific silver fir forest. At least I assumed that these tall, dark beasts were the same trees Mr. Davis was identifying before supper.

It sure was dark, so dark that my dim light could hardly penetrate to the trail. In fact, it seemed as though something was wrong with my light. I stopped and took hold of my lamp and noticed the beam wavering into a weak orange color. It went out sharply. I hit the lamp a few times on my knee and it came on again, then went out abruptly. I banged it a couple of more times and – no more light.

Luckily, I had another set of batteries in my day pack. I skillfully opened the battery box and slipped in the new batteries, being careful to put them in the same direction as those I took out. However, the lamp still wouldn’t work. I must have broken the bulb’s filament when I banged the light. I pulled the extra bulb from the bulb compartment and to my horror it slipped—practically jumped—out of my fingers into the moss beside me.

I spent the next twenty minutes unsuccessfully looking for the bulb. Now the forest was onyx black, so I crawled toward the river where the glow from the night sky illuminated the river corridor. The river paralleled Thunder Creek Trail, its airy voice rumbled comfortingly. The mossy forest floor soon dead-ended at a precipitous drop to the now thundering river’s edge. I used the exposed roots of a tree to climb down the cobble and till bank, but soon I lost my footing and began a blind, tumbling run down into the river.

That was the coldest night of my entire life. The swift water caught me and propelled me through a minefield of boulders. I was at the mercy of the river. Eventually I ended the 52-degree Fahrenheit flume ride with a stiff swim to the gravel shoreline. I laid face-up, surrounded by trees, staring blankly at the starry sky-river above. “Perhaps tomorrow will be sunny and when I get back to camp Mr. Davis will forgive me for disobeying the rules when he sees how much I suffered,” I considered. I crawled under a huge mossy log and shivered in and out of sleep all night long.

My lips were numb when I awoke to the sun sending rays through the mossy branches. On the ground before me, my journal lay open. How did it get out of my pack? I was too cold to think about that now, so I lay my socks, wool sweater and pants out in the morning summer sun to dry. Steam was rising everywhere, especially off my damp clothes. A warm summer breeze blew, and it turned the journal to a page with some writing. “Funny, I had thought this was a blank journal. I hadn’t even cracked the book, though we’d been instructed to write in it daily,” I thought to myself. Since I couldn’t go anywhere until my clothes dried, and the riverside was so boring, I reluctantly turned the page. I read, “These thoughts will help you if ever you are in times of need.”

Chapter 2
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Filed under Fiction, Uncategorized, wilderness

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