You stop. You don’t know why, but something feels wrong, slightly off, an alarm ringing from somewhere deep in your monkey brain. For a moment you stand there, frozen, other than your fingers sliding toward the can of bear spray hanging at your waist.
Your eyes scan the valley floor, searching for some sign in the waist-high brush, movement in the dense forest ringing the meadow. Nothing moves, but it’s unconvincing. You don’t feel alone.
Your fingers slide the bear spray out of its holster and snap away the safety. The weight of the can gives you some comfort, but not enough. No matter how potent, pepper spray seems small next to the eight hundred pound predator it’s designed to scare.
You realize how quiet it is, nothing stirring, no birds, no insects, nothing. The world is too still, as if everything is holding its breath. The alarm keeps ringing in your head.
You break the silence with a yell. The noise is jarring, but nothing moves. You take a few steps and yell again, warning whatever’s out there of your presence. Still nothing. You begin walking.
Your steps are slower now, more deliberate, buying time for your senses to reach into the world and explore. You see a tuft of brown fur caught on a tree, notice claw marks in the bark. You yell again and spin a circle, wondering what’s watching you.
The world remains still. Silence pounds your strained ears. You yell every few steps, hand still gripping the can of bear spray, the safety still undone.
You look at the trees, could you climb one? No, you curse whatever monkey ancestor decided to leave the safety of the trees to walk on two legs. Your hand still holds the bear spray. You wish you could climb, but keep walking.You and your shadow are the only movement. The sound of a distant jet plane roars in your strained ears. You smell things you never noticed before. You feel the wind brushing against you.
A squirrel’s chatter breaks the silence. Then a bird calls. You start to see movement again. You walk on, relishing the noise, not quite sure, wondering if you imagined it all.