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We had set out to pick chanterelles. It was one of those should we/shouldn’t we go for a walk moments. But it was such a nice, crisp fall evening and if we just went home, the kids would go bonkers and so we decided it was easier to stay out of the house. It was too early to think about supper, so we made our way to a forested area close to the city that supposedly had chanterelles. Once you find an area with chanterelles, you do not reveal the site unless you are held hostage or you vaguely state the whereabouts by saying “yes, just off of that road near the power lines.” Which could in fact be anywhere.
As we got out of the car, we set off on foot. Our five-month-old baby was attached to my front in a carrier, while our four-year-old son and six-year-old daughter trudged up ahead with my husband. We ambled along the gravel road for a bit until it was decided that we should venture into the woods.
Some of the land had been cleared and we manoeuvred our way over fallen branches and logs. It was nice to be outside, exploring and watching the kids scamper about. Our eyes were fixed to the ground, looking for the mushrooms. Chanterelles are a golden-apricot colour. They have a distinct funnel shape and are found in moist, mossy areas. As we entered the dense part of the forest, it was difficult to distinguish fallen yellow leaves from the possibility of a mushroom. My eyes were playing tricks on me. I thought I had found a large patch when it was in fact yellow pine needles and leaves.
We ended up finding a downhill mountain-bike trail, complete with ramps and jumps built from logs. My husband and son went further into the forest, while I slowly meandered ahead along the path. My daughter was behind me and called out. I replied that I was up ahead on the trail. That interaction would replay itself over and over again in my head.
I headed back down to meet up with my son and husband. It was when I saw them searching in the soil that I realized our daughter wasn’t with them.
Panic is a feeling that grabs hold of you before you even know what to do about it. The woods all of a sudden went from being a place of serenity and beauty to gaping holes of despair. As I looked through the bright shades of green, I was training my eyes to spot pink. Look for pink. A pink jacket.
At first, I walked slowly up the path to where I had been, but I knew that I would have seen her pass me. I was shouting her name as loud as possible. No answer. My husband walked back down the path and I told my son to stay with me so that we all wouldn’t end up separated. It was nearing dusk. Panic and fear had engulfed me now. It was a slow choking sensation, which made me realize that we had lost her. I screamed her name over and over again into an abyss. My husband returned alone. He said that he was going to call the police. I kept shouting.
Where could she have gone? This wasn’t a busy city park or shopping mall where you expect to lose sight of a child. This was the woods, which became more and more foreboding as minutes ticked away.
We would be that family with the lost child. The before and after scenario played out in my head. Thanksgiving weekend would never be the same. Turkey and cranberry sauce would permanently remind me of the day she was lost in the woods. The fact that my son was reassured about police coming to help us made me think of his unhampered childlike innocence. Unlike me, he was not tainted by visions portrayed in gruesome detective dramas or the faces of children on milk cartons and posters in grocery stores. His assurance was what I wanted to believe in. The police will come and she will be found.
The meal was excellent. Rita was well pleased. Then I went around to The Done Right Inn to drink with my cronies and the cranks there. Individual and community. Explains everything, even the SNC-Lavalin affair.
The adrenalin, which had already kicked in, was now turned up full blast. I started running from the unimaginable. I moved quickly down the path thinking she must have headed back to the car. That was the only option. I walked quickly down the trail, glancing left and right. Had she fallen down a hole? Was she near the small stream? I expected to see her lying somewhere, perhaps having twisted an ankle. But she was nowhere.
I crossed over the opening between the forest and the gravel road and still had not spotted her. I kept thinking, if I see her I won’t be angry. I won’t be angry. But I was angry. I was angry with her for setting off without us and I was angry with myself for not paying more attention to her whereabouts. When I finally got to the gravel road, there she was. She turned as I shouted her name. I was flooded with an immense sense of relief. I knelt down and hugged her.
We do not often talk about the scenarios that “almost happen.” The near misses, the “what ifs.” That walk in the woods could have turned out drastically different. As a family, we have reflected and discussed the events that happened that day. What can we do to try and avoid such an occurrence in the future? We could have had whistles or walkie talkies. We should always be in sight of one another. However, deep down we know that from now on, there will never be a simple walk in the woods.
Angelique Myles lives in St. John’s, Nfld.