"Momma made a mistake. Momma made a mistake," I repeated.
My son clung to me. I yelled my husband's name. Each time I yelled, my son screamed like a siren.
"I'm sorry, I'm sorry. It's ok, it's ok."
This was one of my low points during an afternoon spent lost in the woods.
"You want to try this?"
I put four beets in the toaster oven, put my son in the carrier and we walked down the lane. Just a short walk. We'll be back soon, have to, the beets are cooking. The thought of adding wild leeks to our meal tempted me off the lane and into the forest. Just a couple leeks. Have to be back soon. The leeks were beginning to show signs of going dormant. Just a few more leaves and I can fill the dehydrator. Have to be back soon.
I turned back up the ridge and headed towards home. My son reached for beech branches above his head. He laughed. I laughed. We walked on and stopped to grab and thrash more low branches. Both our heads were covered in leaves and twigs. We laughed.
I walked on. I found myself lost.
I walked and walked. I though of staying put. I looked at the clouds, the sun getting lower. We had left at 4:30. My son had no hat, no shoes, just socks and a denim jacket. I was wearing Crocs and a sweat shirt. Was rain in the forecast? Just a short walk. Have to be back soon. I walked. I walked faster. My son sensed my panic and began to whimper and then cry.
We walked through swamps. My socks got wet. I knew that was a bad idea, but I could not stop the forward momentum of my body. Just a short walk. I kept walking. I walked faster. A branch slapped my son's cheek. He cried out. "It's ok, it's ok." One foot sunk into the swamp waters. One wet sock. Slow down. The next foot followed easily. Two wet socks. Stay dry, stay dry. My back was sweaty.
"Hello?" I called.
I found posted property lines. I followed the signs. Though the owner's names were familiar, the landscape was foreign. I hoped to follow the boundary, even if I had to walk the boundary entirely. The property corners were confusing, signs tapered off, so I turned back. Walked the line again. My son was in my arms, nursing for comfort.
I yelled. "Jared? Jared? Hello? We're lost." My son cried out.
I walked to a canopy gap, hoping it was a restoration site I knew well. I wasn't. I had never seen this place. I walked back along the property line several times. Jared? Jared? We're lost. My son cried. The sun sank a bit lower. I heard a train. I thought I heard cars. I heard robins, waterthrushes, woodpeckers. I came to the brook repeatedly, crossing was too difficult. Don't get wet, don't get wet whatever you do. Don't get the baby wet. Maybe here. Maybe I'll cross here. My feet slid from beneath me, and I went down hard. We were still dry. I walked.
I calmed myself. I made silly faces. My son giggled with my breast still in his mouth. I walked. Stay calm, stay calm for the baby. I concentrated for just a moment, "Jared, find us. We're out here." I hoped his receiver was on, but my power of telepathy was scrambled. I quickly forgot about the psychic tactic.
The fourth time I walked the property line, I acknowledged I was like a spinning top. Each time I doubled back along the boundary line, I walked a shorter distance. I had lost track of the extent of the signs. I crossed through the swamp multiple times.
I came to the brook. I had walked the this brook so many times, but not here. I couldn't remember which way the water flowed. Had I ever even noticed? I chastised myself. I walked along the brook. Witch hazels. Witch hazels? I never seen this many witch hazels along the brook.
I walked away from the property line towards skunk cabbage. I found a familiar spot along the brook, where two tributaries meet but was so confused I did not know which direction to go. Skunk cabbage obscured the matrix of tributaries. Stay put.
I continued to yell as I had much of the afternoon, but in a sing-song way, with clapping. My son laughed.
I built a debris hut. I carried my son as I worked. He did not want to be put down. Work was slow with one hand. "Momma has to put you down. Momma has to get this done." I slapped sticks together, made faces and garbled noises, and swung my arms. My son laughed and relaxed. My son watched me work while balanced on a fallen beech branch. I marveled at his abilities. Usually a wanderer, he stood in one place. I silently praised his instinct to let me work. When he slipped, his back arced and he pitched forward. Please don't be hurt. He was shaken but fine.
The debris hut was too low. I worried it might suffocate my son in the night. I moved the branches and leaves. I climbed in and could see daylight. Not enough leaves. The sun was sinking. I yelled. I stuffed the shelter with more leaves. The leaves were wet, and I hoped to not test their warmth. I removed my wet socks and stuffed my Crocs with leaves. I wondered if I should keep going. Would my son's fingers freeze? Would it rain? Could I stay calm? My husband must be worried. He would not sleep. I imagined him in bed alone, wondering where we were sleeping. Hello?
I was sweaty, my voice hoarse. I climbed into the debris hut again, peered at my son, and made silly faces. He laughed. I slid out and picked him up. I tried to wriggle back in with my son in my arms. He began to scream. I worried about how we might stay warm through the night. What have I done? Adrenalin had subsumed my needs, but I knew my son was hungry and thirsty. What would we do?
I thought I heard a voice. My husband's voice. "Momma's going to yell, it might scare you, but Momma's gonna yell. HELLO! JARED!"
"HELLO! JARED! WE ARE HERE! BY CAT TAIL!" My son wept.
My husband's voice.
"JARED! JARED! KEEP CALLING MY NAME."
Voices came closer. Flashlights.
"I see you. I see you!" my voice quivered.
My husband. Police.
"Rachel, are you alright? Are you hurt?" an officer asked.
We walked home in the twilight. My husband carried our son. I trailed behind them, shocked and embarrassed.
What my husband saw when he arrived home - our shoes on the porch, beets in the toaster, a partially rinsed diaper in the toilet. A quiet house. We weren't in garden.
His instinct took him to the ridge, to the leeks. We had wandered so far, he could not hear my calls, nor I his. He called the police, thinking we had been taken. Where could we have gone without shoes? My son always walks. A long hike with no shoes?
"Have you had a fight with your wife? Would she wander away?" Officers asked my husband. "Where's her cell phone?" They checked my recent calls and inquired about numbers showing men's names.
"Do you have a child carrier?" he was asked. "Yes, but we don't use it," he replied and never looked for it. Why would he? We haven't used it since last summer.
"Would she run away?" they asked my parents.
"No, she's not like that," my mother answered.
My neighbor walked a loop trail near our house, calling my name. Her husband drove nearby roads.
Once we made it to the lane, a dog from the back of the K9 unit vehicle whined and gurgled balefully. The disembodied hand waved from the driver's seat.
My mom rushed up, tears in her eyes. She was wearing my father's fleece vest. She looked like she was wearing a bulletproof vest. Multiple police cars, an ambulance. During the walk home, my son was stoic in my husband's arms. He stared at the scene in front of our home.
"Look at all the police cars!" my husband exclaimed. My son smiled widely and pointed.
Everyone left. Inside, I saw my day's laundry folded. My mother needed to stay busy. A phone message from my mother, "Jared, have you tried calling any of her friends...?" Leaves from the debris hut loosened from our hair and clothes and were scattered across the floor.
I noted the beets were not overcooked. I had set the toaster to 300, so we could go for a short walk and get some leeks.
In my pocket, I found a wild leek bulb that I had accidentally pulled and its tattered leaf.