The morning sunlight stabbed me right in the eye. I closed it. Rolling out of the leaves, every joint aches with the cold of the night on the forest floor. Slowly, I rise to all fours and stretch hard - first downward facing dog - haunches high, forelegs thrust out front, back arching low. Then, cobra - head high, back legs thrust out, butt low, neck stretching up, up, up. Ahhh...I'd smile if I knew how. Finished it off with a good, hard shake starting at my nose and undulating through my body until it flicks off my tail, ears loudly flap slapping my face. Yes, that's the stuff.
Something about a good night's sleep and waking up in a familiar place makes you feel less lost even if the place has only been familiar for just one night. I pad down to the water's edge and notice for the first time the faintest color blue through the trees across the river. Two steps to the right and a small chimney confirms that there is a house nestled in the firs. Hmm... I wonder about that. Who would live out here in the middle of nothing?
I hear the crack of a branch and a faint snuffling behind me. I whip around just in time to see a skunk poking around the roots of a Madrone tree about ten feet away looking for grubs. I jump back with a bark that's more like a yelp and the skunk does the same with a sound nearly indescribable but similar in inflection to mine. I take one step forward and if I didn't smell the skunk coming I certainly smelled it leave. In a moment so fast I could barely close my eyes the skunk turned and hurled its stench at me with the fury of 1000 cats and left me in a foul cloud of chemical madness.
Barking, choking, blind and vomiting, I stumble backward into the river hoping for the sweet relief of the cool water. I put my head under and open my eyes. The cold is calming but my gut is still roiling, so I have to surface to vomit once, twice, three times more. It passes. Loose stones under foot give poor purchase against the current which rushes harder as I slip deeper, farther from the shore. I lose footing entirely and begin to swim, sneezing, half blind, down the river. I go with the current.
Slowly my eyes clear enough to see I'm drifting in the center of the river, not too quickly and now I have full view of the blue house, small wisps of smoke escaping the chimney. Some paddling and driving later and I crawl to the bank about a quarter mile from the house. I flop on shore in a muddy spot and lay motionless, breathing. My eyes open and close, still stinging, and pulled down, down, down into the darkness of the numbing cold and fatigue. The last thing I see is a pair of boots coming toward me. All is dark.