It was a night just like this.
The moon was unusually low in the sky. So low that it lit up the bottoms of the eerie night clouds. You know those clouds. They skim silently through the sky as if they were trying to sneak up on something – – – – – or someone.
The moon lit up the side of the trees opposite me. My side of each tree, therefore, was dark and foreboding.
The moon did glance off the small stream. It reflected a few barren tree trunks beside my campsite.
The live trees offered no solace due to their dark presence. The dead trees stood out. The bark hung off them like a rotting corpse. The stream was barely moving and offered no life or sound. The forest was dead quiet.
Then, without warning, there was a sound of footsteps somewhere near me. I listened and attempted to match the sound pattern to that of a deer. There was no match. The pattern was not regular. A few steps in the dry leaves and then nothing. Whatever belonged to the footsteps was being very cautious; or maybe it was stalking.
Not me, I hoped.
Were the steps heavy or light? I listened intently for additional clues. They had stopped. I sat there quietly as I could. My breathing had become heavier. I wondered if it could hear me trying to get enough air without making too much noise.
The steps started again and stopped almost immediately. It was a heavy sound, not a skunk or raccoon. Something larger like a mountain lion or a bear. I could not control my breathing. I would burst if I didn’t take several deep breaths.
Nothing, the forest remained quiet. I took the opportunity to fill my lungs.
Off in the distance I could hear the hoot of an owl. I remained silent and frozen for several minutes. Then; the sound of another few steps.
I knew these woods and its animals like the back of my hand. If only the footsteps would be more regular, then I could tell what it was – – – – – and where it was.
More night sounds. This time coyotes; off deep in the mountains.
A mouse scampered through the leaves at my feet.
More time elapsed without any sounds. Suddenly there was a crashing of broken limbs in the trees above my head. I looked up in time to see a great horned owl settling on a large branch.
And then all was quiet again – – – too quiet – – – for too long.
Then a crunching noise, something chewing on something – – – or somebody. My senses were sharpened with fear. Finally the fear had come to a head and I saw my stalker.
A small moose enjoying the watercress that grew in the quiet stream by my campsite.
I got to know a little about myself that night.