10 Minutes in the Woods

10 Minutes in the Woods

You wouldn’t last 10 minutes in the woods, my father used to say. Of course, I would die immediately, I would respond, my fealty to you is most strong, Papa, and I wish to remain here and not be cast into the woods to suffer the death of the ancients. This would generally end the baseless accusation, for a time. But it did make me wonder how many minutes he would survive in said woods. Does he have waterproof matches and a Rambo knife stowed discreetly in some unseeable pocket? Did he do hard time in the woods? Does he withhold various woods-based knowledge from me as he wishes me to perish due to some misunderstood oracle that told him the son would overtake the father? Does he really know how to survive as he boasts? What is the meaning of this condescension?

All of these former thoughts lackadaisically gallivanted through my weary mind before my mind kindly reminded me that I was, in fact, already lost in the woods for what seemed to be upwards of four minutes. I smiled. I am confidently closing in on his pitifully low bar.

I completely accidentally drove off a cliff on an old mountain road and ended up deeply ensconced in the valley below, at least 200 yards down. The articles would have said it was a wonder I survived, were this the end of the tale. The articles really like to say that, I’ve found.

More surprising than my survival is that I somehow had the will to live enough to pry myself from the wreckage before the car blew up, as if in a movie. The whole absurd episode was exactly like a movie. I loathe when things happen like they happen in the movies. It gives more confidence to the writers and creates tropes and cliches. But there were more pressing matters at hand than the overwhelming sameness of the cinema. I was bleeding from the head, had broken my arm, possessed only one bottle of water and had a small amount of artisanal jerky. The woods were looking quite grim from a rations point of view.

But it was beautiful. So very beautiful. A stream ran through the overhanging greenery making it seem like the trees were having a pleasant hug with their opposite on the other shore. I sat and stared at the idyllic scene for at least another four minutes, bringing me within striking distance of the goal. Nothing is attacking me. The fish don’t seem violent. They almost seem to be inviting me for a swim. “That is very kind of you to offer. I am presently busy, but possibly later,” I tell them. The conversation with the fish brought me up to ten minutes and any minute after that was gravy as far as I was concerned.

My Father was wrong. I can survive. The proof is in the soufflé, as he used to say. Why he was too good for pudding is something we must leave to the biographers.

I stormed my brain to see what my next best move would be. If I remembered correctly from the Cub Scouts, which I abandoned even before I learned any knots, you are supposed to follow the stream to a river and then follow the river to the pollution and shortly thereafter, when the pollution becomes extreme, you will be in a city. To the pollution, I stated boldly, to the city! I marched in a direction of which I knew not, filling me with a positivity that was only matched by its notorious bedfellow, negativity. Having balanced each other out I was completely neutral. I was completely even. This was a fine sign of success, for the calm, from what I understand and have possibly misread, the calm will inherit the earth.

After some time I was wondering if this half-remembered, Cub-Scout wisdom was some ornate fabrication. The stream seemed unending and there was no river in sight. It would not have been a surprise to me if the Cub Scouts' wisdom was unwise—it is a possibly questionable organization in many ways—but now I wanted for it to desperately be true. I prayed to the gods as I walked.

I realized you could pray to anything. I prayed to Teddy Roosevelt. I prayed to go karts and mini golf for quite a while. I even prayed to my father, but it was mostly gloating of my newly found, or perhaps simply dormant, survival skills. And having prayed to various and sundry entities I found that I had survived in the woods for 27 minutes! Pshaw, Father! Your underestimation has been doubled and then some!

It was at that moment that I came upon a wolf. It snarled and was furious that I had come upon it. I said, “I did not mean to come upon you so quickly. I am usually more vocal when I come upon anything, much less a wolf. I usually announce myself, is what I mean.” It seemed to misunderstand my communication as if we didn’t share a common language, which to the wolf's credit, was the case. Maybe that was for the best considering the minefield of double entendre that I had just inadvertently ejaculated from my mouth.

It stared me down like I was a Christmas ham and it was a wolf. I am not sure that a wolf understands ham preparation or the subtleties of glazing, but to this wolf, I was definitely a Christmas ham. It slowly approached, and I tried to remember what the Cub Scouts told you to do when you were confronted by a wolf. Scream and run? Stay still and weep? Recite some Old Testament Bible verse while doing the electric slide? I begrudgingly went with the third option though it seemed to be miles outside of the box. I decided to recite Deuteronomy 23:1 as I danced the fore-spoken electric slide.

There was visible confusion from the wolf. Wolves had never been confronted with such aversion techniques. “Look at me now Papa!,” I howled, “Confusing a wolf with only my remembrance of the Bible and my dancing prowess? What else could make a papa proud?” I wondered. There was no answer.

The wolf kept approaching after I had grown weary of the recitation and the dance. It was five feet in front of me, and I thought, well, this is it. With everyone dying the slow death of human disease I guess I was lucky to have a dramatic death. Very few get it. And most would prefer some drama due to the punishing drabness of daily existence, especially at the end. This will be nice. Terrifying, but nice.

The wolf looked at me hungrily one last time before it’s easily-had human feeding, when it seemed to be startled by something out of my view and ran off into the greenery. “What in Ganesh’s name scares a wolf?” I begged of the gods I had just prayed to. I then looked to the shore and saw what invoked great fear in the formerly present wolf.

It was a bear. A big, big, big, bear. A very scary bear. I would tell you the type of bear, but I am ignorant of such things. I, however, had survived in the woods for 45 minutes now, so naming bears seemed to have little to do with survival. This factoid would be but only one of many factoids, in my forthcoming pamphlet, “36 Factoids for Surviving Anomalous Accidents In The Woods.” But I was being far too cocksure thinking about forthcoming pamphlets presently.

I once again tried to invoke the wretched Cub Scouts manual that had grown so dusty in my mind. It was hard to call up in my brain, perhaps due to blood loss or lack of snacks.

Like a computer riddled with viruses, my brain misfired neuron after neuron calling up so many useless facts and memories that were at present completely unnecessary. Caesar crossing the Rubicon, 49 B.C. The birthday of Lenin, April 22, 1870. The Magna Carta, 1215. The bosoms and phone numbers of all of my lovers. My AOL password. My youth.

Finally, my brain conceded to my informational demand, and it remembered that for a bear, you were supposed to tie your food in a tree and not move. I had no food. Well, some I guess.  I had a small amount of artisanal jerky. In what way was I supposed to tie that up in a tree? I lacked rope and bag. I resigned to simply give the bear my bounty. So, I threw the artisanal jerky towards the bear, hoping that my offering would sate the beast, and it would go on its way. The beast was unsated, and it did not go on its way.

It must have been 500 pounds and 7 feet tall, if I am allowed some exaggeration. And the foreign smell of artisanal jerky seemed to drive the bear into a frenzy. It, sadly, roared exactly like bears do in the movies. Even a bear in the woods can’t escape the tropes of beardom. Or movie bear tropes can’t escape a bear in the woods. It’s hard to say.  

The bear attacked swiftly, swatting me onto my back into the stream, my head hitting a rock and my limbs becoming like those of a doll made of rags. So much blood in my mouth. So much. Number one most blood in my mouth moment for real. The blood tastes kinda good, and is possibly my final beverage, so I’ll drink as long as the blood bar is open. Coming up on closing time. Now, that would be a perfect machine, I opined, the human who survives on its own blood. Another great idea lost to time. Such is life. And yet people keep on living. Amazing.

The bear straddled me like I was an old lover. It lifted its right paw, maybe it was the left, I was kind of dazed and in immeasurable pain, and it paused briefly before tearing me from head to dick to toe. In that pause, though I was to die in a moment, a great calm flowed through me.

My father said I’d only last ten minutes in the woods. I outdid his expectations by 50 minutes. “Do your bloody work, bear,” I said to myself and also out loud to the bear, “victory is mine.”

Mike O’Connell is writer, actor, comedian and musician who lives in Los Angeles with his 13 Cabbage Patch Kids.
More posts by Mike O'Connell.
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