April 3, 2023

Lost on a trail lightly traveled

A gentle, peaceful and beautiful walk in the woods turned into a living nightmare. 

Our daughter, camera in hand and optimistic in her ability to capture unique photos as dusk would soon fall, creating interesting patterns on the water and water fowl. 

"You can go ahead" she instructed us. "I'll catch up after."

Walking leisurely up the river bank, slippery with wet fall leaves, to the trail, we agreed "we'll meet you at the bridge". 

The trail was familiar and particularly picturesque during the waning autumn days. The blue sky especially brilliant this late afternoon. Knowing our daughter's penchant for photography, I knew she would be happily settling down, alone at last, focusing on the environment and wild life. We knew these woods and felt safe leaving, plus would be a mere 10-minute walk from her.

At the bridge, my husband and I watched the birds and searched the water for possible fish swimming through. The antics of the Cardinals and Blue Jay were especially entertaining. Then, waited, waited, and waited more -- she didn't show. We walked a little down the trail, casually watching for her -- she wasn't in our sight.

My emotions were catching up to our reality as I went back in time, many years ago at this very park, where a young lady was on a run and never showed up at home. Her body was found, brutally murdered, not far from our location. 

Deep breathing so the panic would not overwhelm us my husband and I retraced our steps.

Arriving at her previous position we scanned the quickly flowing water. Descending to the river's edge, sliding down, I felt a rise in fear that my daughter may have fallen off the bank into the cold and fast river. 

Few visitors passed on the trail but as they did, we asked if they saw her — a blonde girl with a large camera wearing a yellow skort, explaining that we were to meet our daughter at the bridge, which is a familiar feature to these woods, but she never showed up. 

“Oh yes, but I don’t think she was wearing a skirt”, said one.

“Was she with a young boy”, asked another, explaining that he saw a boy running down the trail.

“I think I saw a blonde over at the Huron Pond but I don’t know if she was wearing a skirt. But she did have a camera”, reported another.

It was getting darker as my husband took off to check the car, perhaps she was waiting for us there. I was further fearful as she didn't respond to messages or phone calls. Find my Friends showed the phone being stationary and in the woods. Another call to her -- her voicemail recording caused my heart to beat into my ears and my breath shallow with emotion. 

I again remembered the death of the murdered girl, meeting and talking with her mother, and how the mom's life changed forever. I don't know how people stay intact after losing a child. My daughter's voice on the recording comforted me, though. She's tough and wise in nature.

Text messages -- please call and call us as soon as you get this message -- no response.

I flagged down a couple bikers to ask if they saw our daughter, please to keep their eyes open for her. The older man seemed concerned enough that he and his son took off on their bikes to look along the river bank. “She’ll show up" he shouted comfortingly. 

The darkness was increasing and we did not bring flashlights.

Breathing heavily, I stumbled down the trail as my phone rang ... an unknown number. I had given my cell to so many people on the trail, just in case, so answered with hope.

It was our daughter, demanding in a meek voice, "where are you"? She used a fisherman’s cell to let us know she was at the Huron Pond and was safe. She'd been looking for us going the opposite way on the many trails, also frantically looking. Her cell? Left in the car. My husband, who met me part way down the trail, and I hurried to the pond embracing our also frightened daughter. 

We learned from that too close for comfort experience to:

  • always carry a flashlight, a whistle and a cell phone;
  • pack a snack and water;
  • trust that most of the people using trails are good people--don't hesitate to ask for help.

Have you ever lost someone in a store, park or in the neighborhood?

What feelings emerged when you found him or her?

The Hardwood Walking Stick

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