Friday, March 8, 2019

I'm No Pioneer

Know how to jump start a neglected little blog? Enter a contest, that's how!

Last weekend, a friend posted about a writing contest sponsored by the English and Philosophy department of our local university that was in conjunction with their Robinson Crusoe week (thanks, Marsi). The prompt was to write a fictional journal of desertion and survival based on the story of Robinson Crusoe. Each entry had to depict a human in an isolated or deserted situation. It had to reference a lion, real or metaphoric (the college mascot is a lion and there's something about a lion in the book), and it had to "smoothly" incorporate one of the following phrases from Robinson Crusoe:

     "There was exactly the print of a foot - toes, heel, and every part of a foot"
     "In about a year and a half I had a flock of about twelve goats, kids and all"
     "I have no clothes to cover me"
     "How like a king I looked"

My only real problem was the only thing I knew about Robinson Crusoe was the line from the "Gilligan's Island" theme song.

Did that deter me? It did not.

I entered the contest on Sunday afternoon, 20 minutes before the deadline, then received an email on Wednesday that I was a finalist and would I read my story at their gala on Friday night. Now, it certainly entered my mind that there may not have been a huge number of entries, particularly in my category of community/alumni/faculty/staff, and I think I'm probably right on the mark about that, but there were at least two other entries, because tonight, at the gala, they announced a third place winner, a second place winner, and a first place winner and IT WAS MEEEEE!!!

Do I look nervous? Because I am.

I read my story last, after the winners of the college division and the high school and younger division read theirs. I told the audience I was only used to reading to 4 year olds and I might need them to come up and sit on the floor in front of me, criss-cross, applesauce, but I found my groove and made it through and it felt pretty good. Afterwards, one of the organizers told me they wanted me to go last because my story had such a great punchline. THEY LIKED ME! THEY REALLY LIKED ME! 

(By the way, they had other Robinson Crusoe-related activities all week, including pottery making and goat petting, but I couldn't go to those because work.)

They didn't let me keep the goat.

So here it is, and yes, it's based on a true story. Would you expect anything else from me?

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * 

I'm not what you would call high maintenance, but I'm no pioneer, either. I don't camp. I don't like to sweat. I hate bugs. I hate snakes. I could not hit the broad side of a barn with a ball if I tried, nor could I catch that same ball, tossed easily to me, even if it had glue on it. 

I'm the last person you would expect to find here.

I'm the last person I'D expect to find here, too, yet here I am, sweating and miserable and utterly alone.

It's dark. So very dark. I look up at the stars, each closely guarding its glow, and none of the light makes its way to where I stand in the oppressive stillness of the night. Something flies past my head, so close that I can feel the sound of its wings beating, and I cover my head with my arms and cower until I'm sure it is gone. 

"Step out of your comfort zone," my friends told me. "You might find out it's fun," they said, and I believed them, for they were right; I DID need to step out of the safety of the life I had built for myself, but they were also very wrong about it being fun.

I take a tentative step, then another, and feeling bolder, I take a third step; the ball of my foot meeting with nothing, and I feel myself falling, falling, arms flung out, until I hit the hard, damp ground. I lie there, not moving, barely breathing. My heart is pounding and everything aches, and I wonder how long it will take before the scavengers find me and pull my body apart like a lion at the zoo tears into the meat thrown to him by the zookeeper.

While I'm lying on my bed of hard-packed mud, I take inventory of my body, wiggling a toe here and a finger there, and as the sound of my breathing quiets, the pounding of my heart lessens, I can hear the sounds of the forest around me. Twigs break and fallen leaves crackle as something moves stealthily around the clearing where I lie. A deer, perhaps? Or worse? A bobcat or a bear would not be unheard of in this area. A snake? Don't they sleep at night? Is it a snake?!

The moon has risen since I began my journey of precisely three steps, and a sliver of moonbeam, filtered by the dense growth of trees, has reached the ground around me. I painfully pull myself to a sitting position. My knees and the heels of my hands took the brunt of my fall, and not only can I see they are caked with mud, I can also make out the indentations in the ground which mark their point of impact. I get to my feet, my body hunched, as I try again to walk, led by the muted light of the moon. I shuffle my feet, not wanting to lose contact with the earth again, and my eyes scan the ground before me. I am on edge, barely breathing, as I place each foot carefully, one after the other, when unexpectedly, there was exactly the print of a foot - toes, heel, and every part of the foot, directly in front of me, the toes pointing to the right. Someone else has made this trip, recently, it appears, and for the first time, I feel hope.

I turn in the direction of the footprint, using it as my compass, and I follow it, follow it like a hound dog on the trail of a coon. I catch a glimpse of a partial footprint periodically, sometimes just a heel, sometimes toes dug into a soft spot in the mud, and moments later, the moon high in the night sky, I see the outline of a small structure. Dear God! 

I make my way to the structure with urgency, fumble with the door, and step inside. Something tickles my face, and I bat at it, sure I've encountered a spider dangling from a silken thread, and find instead a string. Pulling it, the tiny structure is illuminated by a 40 watt bulb. There. There is my salvation, for I have finally found the outhouse on the grounds of the rustic camp where I have volunteered to be a counselor. And as I avail myself of the facility, I vow that I will never, ever leave my cabin in the night again without a flashlight.

Thanks, Robinson!


  1. Hahaha. Very good. I never expected it to end in an outhouse. Congratulations on your win.

  2. What a great story! Congratulation on it coming in first!

  3. Congratulations on a great story and win.

  4. Hehehe I really enjoyed that punchline. And HOORAY for your win 👏👏👏

    1. You've been here. Would you have been surprised to see a bear or a bobcat? Remember the bear warning signs at the Johnson Shut-ins?!
      And THANK YOU!!!

  5. CONGRATULATIONS!!!! laugh out loud story!!!! I totally believe its the is you after all!!! Zoe/lydia