I had nearly finished my six day assignment, leading a group of gap-year students over a mountain ridge trail to join up with their parents at Lake Suki. I had been forced to retire after 20 years as a Park Ranger there, and I enjoyed these occasional opportunities to teach youngsters more about the forest eco-system. It was terrain that I knew and loved and, although I still had a limp from the fall that had injured my back, keeping up with those couch potatoes was a breeze.
The “survival guide” title the marketers gave it was more for dramatic purposes than anything –these days one was hardly ever out of mobile phone range, should something go wrong. Huh, I thought to myself, this generation just had too many distractions to appreciate nature anyway! We had one last night left out there. By the next week they’d have filed most of what I showed them at the back of their minds under “Useless but Interesting Information”.
I had been at the back of the string helping “big” Dave when the leaders saw the carcass. The poor animal must have suffered a horribly slow death, I thought – the sight of the rotting skeleton wrenching my gut. The small buck’s skin was still relatively intact, but the worms and insects had done a pretty good job of the rest of its body. So the rumours had been true – there were still trappers and poachers active in this forest. One of their crude wire snares had done its ugly job right here not that long ago.
There were misty-eyed lumps in all of our throats and some tears were washing dust off a few faces, but there was nothing we could do. I covered my mouth and nose with my bandanaand moved closer. A few quick twists and clicks with my army knife later,I could at least lower the animal’s head to the ground and give it some dignity. I looped the snare itself and put it intomy rucksack to hand over to the Rangers at the lake.
“Right, team – there’s nothing more we can do here, let’s get moving!” I said, taking the lead this time and making good time to get their minds off what they had just witnessed. It wasn’t long before their cries of “Slow down, Mr H,” started up again. I let them suffer a bit longer, knowing that the clearing I planned to stop in for lunch was only a few hundred yards away. Once there, I laid my backpack down and took out my wrapped lunch. Kezra, my designated back marker, soon came and confirmed that the group were all safely there. Thanking her, I took a swig from my water bottle and moved to the forward end of the rocky outcrop that bounded the far end of the clearing.
“That is an antenna at Lake Suki, people – the end of your journey of discovery. Between now and tomorrow lunch time; we will have to cross the road to the camp-site three times. I don’t want anyone getting clever ideas about hiving off down it as a short-cut, because it’s not. It zigzags its way down, whereas we’re going straight.” There were a few dramatic groans about ruining their fun, but this group had been one of the better ones, generally speaking. A few may even try camping again, even if only with their own children one day.
“Right, five more minutes and we’re heading out,” I said, reaching for my energy snack – a lovely ripe banana. “Please check that you’ve left nothing behind.” I said.“I’ll be checking for wrappers and aluminium foil as usual.” Once they were all strapped up securely, I called Kezra aside and told her to lead off at a steady pace. “Don’t wait up, keep going to the camp – I want to backtrack to check something.”
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