I was lost. People were looking for me. They’d been searching the forest since early that morning. The sun was plunging to the horizon.
In my latest book, Navigation (Survival Skills Series from Scholastic, Inc., 2023), I map out for young readers the essential skills they need to never wind up in the situation I faced as a kid. What better book to add to your shelves in honor of Earth Day 2023 — a day that beckons us to be outside enjoying all the treasures of this splendid planet!
I was hardly five…maybe six years old. I had gone for a walk through the campgrounds with my Grandpa George early that morning. He stopped often to swap fishing stories with other hook-line-and-sinker folks.
I didn’t want to talk trout with strangers. I wanted to play in meadows or hunt wild strawberries. When I fussed, Grandpa George asked if I knew the way back to camp.
Did I?? We’d only be coming to this same campground since before I was born. Not only did I know the way back, I knew at least three shortcuts.
With that, I was dispatched to make my way alone. The campground consisted of multiple loops. Rather than walk the roadways up, down, and around, I struck out on a trail that I was sure was a shortcut between loops.
Turns out, I was wrong. It was a nature trail that unspooled for dozens of miles into the forest. I followed it for who knows how long until various distractions in the woods lured me away. Butterflies. Chipmunks. Raspberry bushes. Ponds. Dragonflies.
I have no memory of ever feeling scared or panicked. From my perspective, I was completely fine. Sure the walk back to camp was taking longer than I remembered, but at no point did I think I was lost.
This mistaken perception of place, this mistake in basic orienteering is not isolated to small children. Adults make these same mistakes all the time out in the wilds. Be it new terrain or familiar haunts, our brains have an efficient way of losing track of where we are…or, creating a kind of sham hologram — a forgery of where we think we are and where we actually are.
It will surprise no one to learn that when I was assigned to write a book about navigating in the wilderness, my whole family laughed out loud.
“You?! The girl who got lost?!”
But honestly, who better? Of the many things I did oh-so wrong that day, the one thing I did right was not panic. As a result, I didn’t burn through calories running in circles screaming and crying. I didn’t miss food or water for the day. And I didn’t get myself injured by running in circles screaming and crying.
But there’s so much more to wisely being in the wilderness. As many professional outdoorsy-types note, the trick to not getting lost is staying found. This trick is really an assortment of skills anyone at any age can practice.
Spotting landmarks. Reading maps. Using a compass. Tracking the sun or stars to find your cardinal directions. This book explores each of these key skills with clear step-by-step instructions. Young readers also get a decision-making flow chart they can follow should they actually wind up totally lost. Stay put? Backtrack? Keep going? Sit still and call for help? (Hint: that last option is almost always the best one.)
I am very lucky that before night fell on the forest, my knit cap became lodged on a tree branch. I stopped my ambling to retrieve it, but found it was too high out of reach. I have no idea how the cap could snag on a branch low enough to touch my head, yet high enough to elude my fingertips. Maybe a spirit in the tree lowered a high branch deliberately to steal the hat?
However it happened, I stopped long enough (and griped loud enough) for my dad to track me down.
Short of depending on wayward tree spirits, perhaps the young people you know and love should have this book in their collection.
Vintage camping photos courtesy of Donna “Momma” Mason
Featured Image by Jenny Mason
Book cover courtesy of Scholastic, Inc.