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This page last updated on 04/17/2017.

Copyright 2001-2017 by Russ Meyer


It's 5:30 in the morning, and I can't sleep because a bad memory is plaguing me.  A memory of an unnerving experience that happened some 18 years ago.  How can this dusty, old memory still bother me so much?  It torments me enough that I can't get back to sleep.  Maybe writing about it will help.

I must have gone over this experience dozens of times in my mind in the intervening years.  In a way, there's really not much to tell, but more than any other thing that has happened to me, it has taught me the value of trusting your instincts.  I remember it like it was yesterday.  It was February, 1984 and I was a Junior in college.  It was Saturday night, and I was on my way home, driving from Lewiston, Idaho to Walla Walla, Washington.  Just to add some variety, I decided to take the back roads.  I passed through Flora and then Troy, Idaho.  I eventually picked up highway 204 at Elgin, Oregon.  Then it was up over the Blue Mountains towards Athena, Oregon where I would intercept highway 11 to Walla Walla.

As I crested the pass on highway 204, I was in the heart of the Umatilla National Forest.  It was about 2:40 in the morning and I had not seen another car for at least 20 minutes.  Highway 204 is pretty desolate anyway, but all the more so at 2:40 AM.  I was really enjoying the drive.  The scenery was beautiful.  The sky was clear with a million twinkling stars cast carelessly across the heavens.  A full moon hung half-way up the Southwestern sky, bathing everything in a soft, silvery light.  The road cut a straight corridor through this dense forest of tall pines.  With mooncast shadows of pines just brushing the highway centerline, only my lane was fully illuminated.  The snow made the glow seem almost iridescent.  It was as if my lane had been specially prepared just for me.  It all seemed so magical that I just wanted it to go on forever, just like this, with the moon, trees, snow, and shadows.

There was only one thing spoiling this whole atmosphere...I had to go to the bathroom really bad.  It was starting to hurt, and I was miles and miles from anything that looked like a restroom.  I just had to stop.  It seemed safe enough...no one was around to see me.  I slowed and angled the car off to the side of the road.  The moon was so bright I turned off the headlights but left the parking lights on and the engine idling.  I got out and walked about 30 feet in front of the car.  Pointing off the side of the road, I chuckled, "Don't eat yellow snow!"  Ahhhh...oh yeah, whew...what a relief.

That little duty over, I took a moment to look around.  It was so very beautiful.  The wind was strong, and now that I was out of the car, I could hear it moaning through the trees as they swayed gently to and fro.  The wind was out of the Northwest and blowing almost directly down the road.  It was picking up little snow grains and entraining them in long sinuous trails as they gently drifted along.  I could hear a ticky-tick of snow grains as they bounced off my sneakers.  I spent some time just watching these moonlit snow grains weave along...it was very captivating.  I looked up at the moon hanging over the trees and the twinkling stars.  It was just so astonishingly beautiful.

Suddenly, the hair on the back of my neck and arms stood up.  I spun around and looked off into the trees on the right side of the road.  I couldn't see anything.  The forest was very dense and black as coal.  No moonlight penetrated the canopy.  Suddenly, the forest, which had been so beautiful and inviting moments before, now seemed dark and threatening.  Something was out there, watching me, I was certain of it.  I have to admit that I was scared...really scared.  I felt I was in imminent danger.  I started backing up very slowly, one step at a time towards the car.  I didn't want to turn my back on whatever it was.  The car, only 30 feet behind me, seemed insanely far away.  I fought the urge to turn and run.  I just kept backing up until my hand was on the door handle.  I ripped the door open, threw myself inside, slammed the door, and locked it.  I snapped the headlights on...I didn't see anything.  I sat paralyzed for tens of seconds...waiting for whatever it was to jump out on the road.  Finally, I put the car in gear and fishtailed out of there.  Strange how the forest had now lost all its magic and just seemed hostile and suffocating.  As I pulled away, I looked over my shoulder several times, still expecting to see something bound out on the road, but there was nothing.

I've gone over and over this experience in my mind.  Every time I remember this incident, I just shudder.  It still causes me sleepless nights, even after all these years.  Every time I return to the Blue Mountains I'm dogged by this singular memory.  Was there really something there?  I'm pretty sure there was, even though I didn't consciously hear or see anything.  I might be wrong, but I don't think so.  It might have been a bear, a cougar, or a Sasquatch for all I know.  I really felt it posed a threat.  If I didn't consciously hear or see anything specific, how can I be so sure there was anything there at all?  I don't really know.  I suppose it's possible my mind was playing tricks on me, but it wasn't like I was working myself up to the point of freaking myself out.  The incident came out of the blue and shattered what was otherwise a quiet, beautiful experience.  After thinking about it, I've concluded there must have been some noise, shadow, or movement that cued my brain.  Perhaps something just below the level of conscious recognition but enough to stimulate survival instincts.  There must be some primitive part of the brain, operating in the background, that continuously watches for a combination of cues.  When it detects possible danger, the survival instincts kick in.  It's what kept our ancestors alive in the jungle.  I've heard police officers and self-defense experts say you should trust your instincts.  If something seems awry then it usually is.  It's a God given sixth sense and you ignore it at your own peril.

I've developed a theory as to what happened that night.  Now this is all speculation, but it seems reasonable to me.  I think this animal was initially pretty far back off in the forest.  Maybe it was passing through or maybe it had a den off away from the road.  As I pulled up, stopped, and got out of the car, I attracted the animal's attention.  The sound of the idling engine, soft parking lights, or perhaps my smell sparked its curiosity and it moved closer.  I was out on the road for maybe 4 minutes, and I'm guessing it took the animal 2-3 minutes to maneuver into position.  I figure an animal moving cautiously and quietly though the trees could cover 100 or 200 yards in 2-3 minutes.  The wind moaning through the trees masked the sound of the animal moving.  If it actually smelled me, it would have approached from down wind rather than from far off the side of the road.  I think that is possible, after all, I did "mark my territory" just minutes before the incident.

As it came near, it saw me standing in the middle of the road and just stopped and watched.  I have the strong impression of hearing something moving or breathing just off in the forest behind me.  Nothing I specifically remember, but just a very strong impression...I really think I must have heard something sort of half-consciously.  I had been distracted by the beautiful sights and was not really listening.  When I finally realized something was behind me,  I knew exactly where the animal was.  It was about 10 feet off into the trees and about 15 feet further ahead on the road.  I believe it was quite close.