In A Pickle  

Backwoods mania

There was no time to react as the tree snapped, crackled and popped in half before clobbering me on my head. 

I was walking Gypsy though a burned-out forest when she hit the tree — and the tree hit me. I was lucky I wasn’t riding her as the fall from the saddle would have resulted in a worse injury.

I was hurt, lying in a fetal position with my eyes closed when my former husband shook my arm and asked me why I was having a nap. 

I grumbled, got onto my hands and knees and spit out bits of teeth.

I assumed the fragments were gravel, but my front teeth became razor sharp and rubbed against my lips and tongue. The riding helmet saved my noggin’ otherwise the dead tree would have lived up to its name of widow-maker.    

I was seeing stars as I led my horse through the charred forest, a tomb of dead trees. 

We reached the road and mounted up, but the concussion made me woozy. My horse swerved, throwing herself under me each time I teetered like a drunk with a death grip on the saddle horn.

I was often injured during many long and arduous rides in the Alberta foothills, mostly from falls from the horse and dodging hooves as I scrambled out of the way.

There were many hazards on the trail, such as muskeg or boggy ground. 

Another time I was riding across a pipeline road, which looked fine to the naked eye, but my horse sank into the gluey muck. 

I jumped off and pulled on the reins, begging Gypsy to get up. After thrashing around, up she sprang. 

I fell backward as she launched herself in semi circles trying to escape the quicksand that is reputed to swallow heavy equipment, moose and whatever else it entrapped. 

Terrified of being struck by her flailing feet, I turned onto my side and then flipped around, to avoid being struck by those powerful hooves. 

My thumb crunched as it dislocated and the scorching pain coursed through my body.  

The helmet saved me once again, along with one exhausted guardian angel. 

I needed a doctor, but a soak in a water trough would have to suffice, as it was late and we were miles from town. 

We heated the cloudy H2O in a giant cauldron over an open fire. With a splitting head, I gingerly dipped a toe into the livestock tub filled with mineral-enriched creek water.

Slowly, painfully, I folded my legs and sat in the small tub, while the theme song for City Slickers played in my head.

A tarp wrapped around several trees provided an enclosure, and privacy, for the crude bath.. It held the heat in and the breeze out. 

I winced as I poured water over my concussed head and shampooed. I should have used a food strainer to filter, as particles of plant matter, sand and gunk now stuck to my hair and scalp. It felt good to be clean though, lumpy locks and all. 

The experience was spa-like, with a rustic ambiance, which wasn’t for sissies or the civilized, but it did revive body and spirit in the crisp mountain air. 

Between the cure-all-trough and a leaky tent to sleep in, I was resilient, or perhaps mad. 

Washing clothes in the creek and hanging them on a clothesline made this weekend warrior feel like a pioneer.

Upgrading from a tent to an old camper was a smart move, especially when we were encircled by a pack of wolves. We couldn’t see them in the forest, but they spoke to each other in canine language debating who or what was first on the menu. 

First nations people and others who spend a lot of time in the bush know of this talking phenomenon.  Maybe we were spared because my ex is a descendant of the wolf clan.

If that wasn’t bad enough, on the next trip we heard the eerie scream of a mountain lion lying in a wait in a nearby treetop My hair stood on end in that little bathroom-less camper on that long, dark, starless night. 

Relatives and friends questioned my mental state as I went back repeatedly for off the grid camping adventures; wrought with horseback riding calamities’, near misses with man-eaters and hostile trees.

I was always in a pickle.

They said it was not wise to tempt fate with my backcountry mania; in retrospect, I wouldn’t change a thing. I had a lot of adventures during the 10 years of off the grid camping. 

Now out of necessity I armchair travel by watching reality survival programs on TV. Been there, done that, lived to tell about it.


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About the Author

Doreen Zyderveld-Hagel writes about the humour in every-day life, and gets much of her inspiration from the late Erma Bombeck’s writing style. 

Doreen also has a serious side, shares her views on current events, human-interest stories and sometimes the downright bizarre. 

She can be reached at [email protected]

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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