The Trap, Part Two by Patricia K.

Beaver Dams on Recapture Wash.  Photo by Saul Karamesines. Click on photo for larger view.

Part One here.

As my mind made sense of the scene, I said something like, “You’ve got to be kidding!” or (don’t laugh) “I’ll be doggoned!”  Words along those lines.  I took quick stock of my condition: unhurt, and no other sound suggested more surprises to come.  The trap was a light affair, probably capable of doing a rabbit or perhaps a fox some harm but nearly toothless against the rigid leather upper and hard rubber sole of my hiking shoe.  Yet the sight of my foot caught in an animal trap inspired twinges of shock and panic.  I am proud to say that I held those in check. After studying the situation, I pushed on the trap with my free left foot.  The device popped off easily and dropped into the dust.  I glared at the contraption, feeling an upwelling of anger.

With my hiking stick, I lifted the trap end, which was tethered by chain to a buried anchor pin, and draped it over a broken limb low down on a nearby tree so that it hung in plain sight.  Fascinated, I watched the metal mouth swing back and forth then examined the area surrounding. I probed for more traps with my hiking stick, noticing then that someone had blocked off access to the rigged tree from its other side with a fallen limb, perhaps to force his or her intended prey to approach the trap from the same direction as I had.  The branch also served to partially hide the anchor pin and some of the alterations to the ground that had resulted from digging into its surface then brushing it smooth.

With the exceptions of a few uncomfortably close encounters with rattlesnakes as an adult, I hadn’t been caught so off guard in decades.  The last time I can remember feeling a similar bolt of panic was when, as a child, I’d followed a familiar path through a large swatch of Virginia woods with my brother Paul and we’d come upon the Stranger.  The forest was bounded on two sides by railroad tracks, what was then called the Atlantic Coastline on one and the Seaboard Airline on the other.  In between was a world of wonder: a dense, white oak canopy through which flew squirrels and bright blue jays and a forest floor peopled by snakes, lizards, quail, whippoorwills, cottontails, raccoons and turtles; a kaleidoscope of toadstools and mushrooms; profound and sometimes mysterious shade; fragrant loam; giant, ancient ferns: an honest-to-goodness faery wood, wild, moist, and deep.

We’d just passed through a pine-wooded section, where lay on the ground a thick, sound-snuffing carpet of pine needles.  This section of the path always charmed me with its uncanny silence.  During our occasional ice storms, the thirty-foot pines bent over the path to form a glittering glass tunnel, all brindled with sunlight and shadow.  On this trip, the trees were bright with summer light, and I was looking up into the branches of the pines instead of at the way ahead.  After all, we hardly ever encountered anything unusual in those woods.  Once, a fully-grown snapping turtle, far from water, which I lifted, two-handed, by the tail and with some effort carried home with the creature snapping angrily at my knees.  A copperhead or two, but those snakes, while venomous, were not hasty creatures.  I’d never even known them to coil or strike unless harassed.  But never anything … you know … like what Mom had warned us about.

We broke from the pine forest onto the forest floor over which lay a tattletale mat of dry twigs.  There we discovered the Stranger standing on the trail ahead, his back turned to us as he looked out over the Atlantic Coastline railroad tracks.  He heard us when we lurched to a stop and twisted around to look at us.  Without a word, Paul and I wheeled and sprinted back into the pine trees. “Hey, wait!” the man cried. A glance over my shoulder showed that he’d turned as if to follow.  We darted through the forest toward a drainage ditch that offered the quickest route home, should we need it, and stopped to listen, hearts pounding.  As far as we could tell, the Stranger had not followed.  Whew!  We’d escaped who knew what!  By our superior wood lore and quick-as-a-flash instincts, we’d outfoxed the Stranger.

But this time, I’d been caught, and soundly, before I’d even been able to wrap my mind around what was happening. Mom never warned me about this problem.  Not once had she said, “Have a nice time, be home in two hours, and don’t get caught in any spring-loaded animal traps whose presence may well be the result of your own conduct.”

Yes, what was that booby trap doing there, anyway?  Clearly, it was associated with the camera.  But how?  Had the BLM taken to laying snares behind its spyware?  No–pitfalls of this sort were not the BLM’s style.

I’m guessing the half tee-hee, half take-that surprisal was a local resident’s answer to the BLM’s higher-tech trap rigged in the tree.  Despite the fact I routinely walked past the camera’s backside, I dismissed the possibility that the ploy had been directed at me. In fact, by my blunder, I’d probably ruined the ironic beauty of somebody’s carefully conceived and giddily implemented scheme.  So I guessed that this folksy act of nonverbal comeback had been directed at the BLM.  The idea, I believe, was that when the BLM officer who had set the tree trap came to check what his device had caught, he’d necessarily step onto the ground behind the tree, as I had passing by, compress the trap’s pan and engage the hair-trigger jaws of just desserts.  An eye for an eye, a trap for a trap.

Only like many traps–including foothold traps, long lines, trawls, cyanide and explosives fishing and other kinds of broad spectrum hunting–this one snagged some serious bycatch.  The bycatch of a fishing haul includes all marine creatures other than the intended commercial fishery species that had become snared, stunned, or otherwise entrapped in a fishing apparatus.  Most of these guilty secrets are discarded injured, drowned, fading from shock or dying from the assault of the catch.  Such species include endangered sea turtles, sea birds, and other collateral aquatic casualties.  With foothold traps, such as the one that had snapped me up, and the heavier ones people who hunt coyotes for bounty frequently use, bycatch can include companion animals who fall for the lure.  My neighbor told me a story once about walking with her retriever Daisy along the edge of a canyon behind both our houses and hearing the dog, who had run ahead, yelp in surprise and pain.  She followed Daisy’s panicked cries and found her stuck in a foothold trap set to catch coyotes.

Until the moment of my capture, I’d had no experience with animal traps.  The semester before this incident a student turned in an informative essay about how to set a foothold trap (humanely, he emphasized), but before that, I’d never thought about such devices except to hope that someday we wouldn’t feel the need to use them.  Becoming someone’s bycatch opened to me a whole new range of empathetic impulse.  As I fumed about the prank, I relived over and over that moment when I became aware that something out of the ordinary–and perhaps deadly–had been sprung upon me, beginning with a sound I couldn’t place but knew meant trouble. Yet the shock and fear my more-or-less benign ensnarement provoked brought to life for me the experiences of soldiers or policemen who step into some dark corner, clip an IED, or trigger other kinds of booby traps and die in that dawning moment of awareness before they can form an inkling of what hit them.  I thought of a fox or a coyote, itself on the prowl, lured in by live or dead bait, and, thinking it’s found an easy meal a shaved second later awakens to the truth of its situation with one of its own appendages caught fast in a metal mouth.  I imagined the animal, as it writhed to escape, exploding in a paroxysm of panic and rage ten or twenty times more potent than my own adrenaline-spiked reaction.

Read Part Three here.

9 thoughts on “The Trap, Part Two by Patricia K.”

  1. I love your description of the forests you ran through as a child. There was a patch of thickly-gathered oaks on the 5-acre property I grew up on… we called it the “deep dark woods,” and somehow the name and mystique we invested in it made it actually scary to us. We poured so much imagination into our play that we ended up taking ourselves too seriously :)

    Stranger with a capital S. Your terror really brought home some of those feelings from childhood… the utter belief in what parents teach.

    And I’m glad you got mad, and that you don’t have superhuman control over all negative emotions, which I have been starting to wonder :) You’re still a long way ahead of me, though.

    OK. I want part three soon. BTW, even though this is a stirring and riveting narrative, as always your writing has a very calming, soothing kind of effect on me. Not soothing as it, making me comfortable. More like staring down into a deep ocean pool, or hiking through that enchanted forest you have described.

  2. Sarah–

    Hah! I grew up on 5 acres, too! Most of it was weeds, bounded by oaks, sassafras, sweet gums, pines, hickory, green briars, and lots of other very admirable trees.

    But the weeds were cool, too. We played army in them.

    About my getting mad: It doesn’t last, so don’t get too comfortable with it. When the shock and panic wears off I tend to get contemplative, fast. :)

    And thank you for your remarks about the effect my writing has on you. I’m very glad you respond in that way.

  3. Okay, but later, all right? I’m busy trying to get published in Dialogue and Abandoned Towers. Cross a finger to two for me if they don’t come off in a trap or get eaten by some Stranger.

  4. I’ve got a colleague here at the cram school who is a weird-magnet. When a car going through the nearby intersection lost a complete wheel assembly and swerved uncontrollably across two oncoming lanes to plow into a row of scooters parked at the side of the road, it was my colleague’s “Nearly Davidson” it hit. This is just an example of a dozen or so incidents I either heard about or witnessed.

    Patricia, are you a weird-magnet? How many people step in a small-animal trap while walking behind a camera on a disputed hiking trail?

  5. I admire your ability to analogize your experience to other people’s. The world needs more of that and less self-pity and self-righteousness.

  6. If weird can be attracted rather than simply break out and linger like a bad case of acne, then I am a rare-earth weird magnet. (There’s an invisible link in rare-earth weird magnet–gotta fix that problem.)

    I’m a bit on the dense side (perhaps because I’m a rare-earth weird magnet, and they’re pretty dense), so apparently I need shock and awe treatments before I can experience those flashes of insight.

    Well, to give myself some credit, I am catching on to the ironic depths of experience that are layered into nearly every event, so the shock and awe charge doesn’t have to hit me for quite so long before I yell, “Okay! okay! I get it already!”

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