I had been in the wild for what must have been days after my stay in Seven Oaks. My appearance showed it. I was naked and in dire need of a bath. My body was covered with the dirt and grime of living wild and being unconcerned with appearances.
I didn't know where I was, but I knew I was alone and far from any discernable human entrapments. I knew where there was water and I felt I needed to go there to cleanse my body. My mind and spirit were immaculate.
I walked the trails of the deep forest, leading down into the expansive river bottom that had held me in awe as the sun had risen. Only half way down the mountain, hidden in a rocky outcropping, I found a small, crystal clear, spring fed pool.
I sat on the edge of the rocks surrounding the spring and waited for the nerve to drop into the cold water. Waiting didn't help. I plunged into the pool and completely disappeared under the deceptively deep water.
Regaining the surface I sucked in air and cursed silently as I sought footing near the edge to keep my head above water while I washed. Rubbing the dirt from my face I noticed my new beard. I was shocked and thought to myself, " Have I been here that long?"
The evidence seemed to confirm my suspicion. Judging from the hair on my face I estimated I had been in the wild for at least two weeks. The full beard would have to go as soon as I returned to civilization and found the nearest razor.
My reflection in the water told me the new look didn't suit me. The blue eyes that peered back at me from the wild tangle of sandy blonde hair had a menacing quality. The growth on my face just contributed to the look of a wild man.
After washing away the dirt I used a bundle of straw grass to comb out my tangled hair Indian style. I was felling much more human as I pondered which direction to travel in my search for civilization. I didn't have to ponder long. Civilization came to me.
"Don't move!" The words came from downwind. Whoever had come upon me was quiet enough to escape my keen senses and wise enough to approach from an undetectable direction.
"That's not a problem. I'm unarmed. You might have already guessed that from the fact that I have no clothes on."
"What the hell are you doing on my place?"
I remained calm and answered the unseen man behind me trying to calm any fears he might have of being attacked in the wild. " I didn't know it was your place. I just sort of wandered in from wherever it was that I've been."
"Well, if I knew that I could tell you what I'm doing on your place. I'm lost."
"That may be. Nobody comes here anymore. Not hikers, campers, government men, or anybody. So, what the hell do you want?"
"Not to be shot first of all. Secondly, I'd like to cover up my bare ass, and last of all I'd like to be pointed towards home, or at least town."
"That makes sense to me. Put this on. I have no desire to see a naked man."
"That's nice to know. My name's Scott Wolf. I'm pleased to meet you." I took the sniper type jungle suit that landed on the ground beside me and began the task of hiding my privates.
"We'll see about that. Get covered up and I'll lead you back to my cabin and you can find town from there."
"That's very kind of you. I appreciate your invitation and your help."
"If it will get you off my place quicker, I'll do it. Although, you seem to be doing alright without my help."
"You wouldn't have thought so if you would have seen me an hour ago. A bath and combing your hair does wonders for anyone's looks."
"That's another thing, you just took a bath in my water supply. I'm going to have to come back for water after the spring clears up. You've already been more trouble than you might be worth."
"I'm sorry about that Mister. I didn't know."
"Well you know now, so let's get on the road and get you where you out of my drinking water."
I turned for the first time to see the man who had managed to catch me off guard. He looked as wild I had just a short time before. He was a big man and dressed for the woods. He was traveling light for a man intending to haul water.
I stood and offered my hand in friendship and trust. He didn't take it.
"No offence, but I don't take to strangers right off. When I give you my hand it will because you've earned my trust and respect, not because of a custom."
"I can live with that. Where to from here?"
"That way." The man who I could only compare to a disheveled Grizzly Adams indicated with the barrel of his rifle.
I started along a path that led me back up the hill. Two hundred yards along the trail I saw the plastic jugs the man had intended to retrieve water in and stopped.
"Leave those there. I have no intentions to lug them back just to fill them later."
"How far is your cabin?'
"You sound like a kid on vacation. Just stay on the path and I'll tell you when we're there."
I felt no urge to debate this man. I turned and walked until I came to a fork in the pig-trail he called a path. I could scent he had come from the left but thought it would be best to play down my abilities. " Which way?"
"You tell me, Robison Crusoe"
I liked this guy. He had a sharp tongue, but I felt there was a reason behind his remark. I looked for sign of his passing and found very little of it. His footprints on the resilient vegetation would all but disappear in another hour. There were no broken branches or stems of the tender new tree growth twisting in the breeze.
This man moved through the woods like a ghost. I believe he had already noticed the same thing about me.
I took the left fork and continued walking without waiting for his confirmation. I got it anyway.
"That was pretty good back there. What convinced you?"
"You could use a bath yourself."
That brought out the first friendly sound I had heard since meeting this man almost an hour earlier. He roared in brazen, from the heart laughter. We both stopped and I watched as he chuckled down to a smile.
I noticed his buckskin moccasins and understood how he managed to avoid leaving the hard-edged footprints most woodsman leave behind. My own bare feet were no gentler on the trail then they would have been.
"What's your name Mister?"
"Ben Walker. No cracks about the bear. We're not related and I've heard them already. It's not much farther, keep moving."
We crested a hill and were just a little way down the lee side when the trail broadened into a real path wide enough to walk on without brushing the brush on either side. Only a few yards beyond that I saw his cabin.
If I had not been so near, and on the ground, I would have missed it. The pup tent shaped structure was supported at one end by a living tree. The sides were of logs and covered with dirt and flora that blended into the natural ground cover around it.
The backside butted into the side of the hill. A person not approaching from the right direction could walk onto the top of it and not know he was standing on someone's house.
The only obvious man made part was a rough-hewn door that hung on thick leather hinges. It closed on more logs in the end of the structure that were covered with honey suckle and trumpet vine. It looked like the home of a garden gnome.
"Nice place." I said with genuine pleasure.
"It keeps the rain off. Come on in and I'll see if I can't find you some real clothes."
Inside the low, wide structure I found the floor had been dug out and allowed a person to stand easily. It also added to the roominess of the dugout. The walls were covered with hides, traps, and other necessary items for human survival in the wild. Ben's bed was on one side of the hobbit-hole and a bench chair sat on the other, near the door.
"Have a seat. I'll get those clothes." Ben went about digging in a chest in one corner of his home.
I sat and waited. I saw that Ben was careful to keep his rifle near him and out of my reach when it was not in his hands. He produced a set of clothes a couple of sizes too big around but fit well enough in the length to make due.
"Thanks Ben. How far am I from a town and what town would that be?"
"You're as far from the nearest town of Naples as you can be, in this area anyways. Noone comes out this way anymore. It's all government land now, a wildlife refuge. Campers and hikers are steered to the other side of the river for recreation.
There's nothing but wildlife on this side. Dad and I built this hide away from Mom when I was a kid, before the government stole our land and made us move."
"How do you mean they stole it?"
"They called it immanent domain. They stole it is what they did. We didn't want to sell it so they just took it and said it was far the greater good. There's suppose to be money they put in the bank a few years ago, but they've probably taken that by now as well. I'm sure they have another word for that, but it amounts to the same thing. They steal when they can't get what they want any other way."
"I take it you don't think too highly of your government then."
"It's not my government! They stopped being my government when they robbed us and forced us off our place."
"So Ben, how long have you been living up here away from everyone?"
"Ten years, and they still don't know I'm here. They must have really needed our land to neglect it so badly."
I was about to speak when the back wall of Ben's house opened up and an angel emerged from the gaping cavern behind it and spoke to me. " I thought I heard voices."
"Sis, this is Scott Wolf. I found him in the spring washing his ass."
.... There is more of this story ...