THE SOUNDS OF KILLINGTON
A mouse is a wee morning monster
A fly passing by is a semi
Sudden flapping like machine guns
A wet leaf the nose of a ghost dog at my feet
A tree bending about to fall,
but held up by the living is
a squeaky door
a metal sign
a rocking chair
old woman groaning
a cat’s meow.
sqeaking its way to the end with every
Fall is here.
ckrk-ck-ck-ck-ck-ck-k-k-k-k-k–crrrrrAAAAck! BtchAM!! Thump!
You never know when a tree or a branch will fall. And they come fast, out of nowhere. The way an apple falls; as if the earth has been pulling them to itself ever since its life began.
When I’m alone in the woods and these sounds are all I hear the mind fills in the blanks. It’s hard to feel alone with all this racket! It’s hard to feel at peace with all this fear so easily stirred up. I’m learning that things often aren’t as scary as they seem, it’s the fear that’s terrifying.
We walked into Vermont after the White Mountains of New Hampshire. It was like a dream: Soft trail, few–if any–rocks, paths through meadows filled with wild-flowers and sometimes cows. But something shifted when we started climbing Killington. There was a stillness in the air, although the trees were moving. The hills seemed densely covered with new birch trees, and yet you could almost see right though them to the sky above. I noticed the strangeness of this place even before she screamed.
After staying with a Christian hippy commune (called The Twelve Tribes) in Rutland, Vermont we got back on the trail and walked a few short miles to the Churchill Shelter, the first one after the road. It was a typical AT shelter: Three-sided log structure with one large platform big enough for about seven people. We stayed up much later than usual, talking about food and music and politics. And we were the only people in the shelter that night, three girls and one dog.
I snapped my eyes open in blackness to the sound of the most terrifying scream I have ever heard, the kind of scream you only hear in movies, the kind of scream that wants to turn back time to say “it” isn’t so. It was a sound only suited for someone who has just been cut in half. It came from the other side of the shelter and lasted the length of her breath. Immediately I asked, “What is it?” That was all I needed to know. Give me understanding. Tell me the cause of what is happening, then I will know how to respond. At first I thought, “It could be an animal of some kind that maybe startled her in her sleep. If not that maybe we are under attack! A terrible person is in the shelter with us. But the dog isn’t barking and there are no other sounds. Maybe it is an evil spirit! A monster of some kind has got Sissy Hankshaw and any minute it is going to do to me whatever it is doing to her!” Again, I asked simply, “What?” In response she screamed again. The same terrible, raw, energetic scream. You could hear her vocal chords cracking. Two screams, no words. This was most terrifying. Whatever had her also had her words. It had to be really bad. This was the end. I was next. Not wanting to attract the attention of the eviscerating monster, I curled into a ball in the dark and waited for it–whatever it was–to end.
Wren sat up straight and put on her light and I peeked my head out of the bag. Someone asked me, “Where are you?” “I’m right here. What the hell is going on?” Sissy said it was just a nightmare and she was sorry. She didn’t know what had happened, but suddenly felt herself wake up in total blackness (but still within her dream) not knowing where she was. She heard someone (herself) screaming and screamed again in fright. The dog was sitting clear outside of the shelter shaking from fear. Anyone (or anything) within a few miles of the shelter would have heard those screams echoing off the rocks; and that scared me too. The sound of her screams played again and again in my head until her scream became my scream and I forgot what it sounded like to begin with. Even now I can’t really recall the sound, perhaps because I’ve never heard anything like it before and I hope I never do again.
The next day was just as eerie. At the top of Killington Peak was an old lodge with boarded up windows and pictures of young, dead men on the walls.
After the night before, we obviously weren’t sleeping here. So we made lunch. Just as soon as we boiled the water there was a BABABABABABABAAAAAA!!!! outside and Mable-the-Dog started barking ferociously. I said I would be the brave one to go investigate. I followed the dog as she pursued something and barked the hair on her back straight up. I looked and saw a huge bird puffing itself up about twenty feet away. I thought it was a turkey. In my sternest voice possible I said, “Mayble, SIT”. Because she’s a good dog, she obeyed and I held her to let the birds pass. I said, “coooo coooo coooo cooo. It’s okay little birdie, you can go. coooo cooooo coooo”. Did I mention I speak birdie. Anyway, the bird de-puffed itselfand walked cautiously on. As did its bird-wife and bird-son-in-law and bird-daughter. The whole bird-family walked by, maybe returning from the bird-grocery store. Twenty-seven birds in all–grouse as I later learned–passed us, grey and mauve with blue and white-tipped feathers and long beaks. Mayble and I sat and watched, astonished.
Had those birds come in the night, I would certainly have reasoned they were mountain-demons that cared only to disembowel me. My mind could not assume they were a family of beautiful creatures trying to make a decent living. And how could it? This kind of thinking couldn’t save me from mountain-demons or monsters or beasts, no matter how unlikely they are. The animal-mind is alive and well, here to shield me from possible danger! But which is worse, living with the constant fear of attack or (not likely) being attacked? I can’t change it with philosophy; but I have learned that sometimes the sounds of Killington aren’t what they seem.