That time I met a malevolent spirit

Written in 2019:

The updates from Parks Canada say that Verdant Creek patrol cabin has burned down.  That’s a sad loss.  Over the years, I spent a few nights in that cabin but one memory has stayed with me vividly for decades.

Back when I was a seasonal park naturalist in Kootenay National Park in the late 1970s, we were encouraged to get out into the park as much as possible to learn about it and develop personal experiences we could share with visitors.  Ian Jack and Larry Halverson encouraged us to hike into the warden cabins on our days off, whenever they weren’t being used operationally.

The hike into Verdant Creek goes over Honeymoon Pass.  Descending from the east side of the pass, the trail angles diagonally down a long avalanche path.  Unlike most other slide paths in the area that tend to be choked with alders and other shrubs this one was quite open — mostly grasses and low greenery.  One summer day in 1976 I was hiking down this slide path when my heart seized up and I stopped dead in my tracks, paralyzed by a feeling of total, abject terror that had come out of nowhere.  It was like those rare nightmares you wake from unable to move.  I looked slowly around; nothing there.  It was a bright sunny morning. Standing immobile, I tried to make sense of the fear: maybe something carnivorous was eying me? But there was no cover anywhere near me.  I remember saying to myself, as much to be reassured by the sound of my voice as anything else: “Something’s going to happen.”

But nothing did. So far as my senses could tell me, I was frozen in fear for no reason at all.  I took a step forward, then another.  The panic began to subside.  A few steps more and it was gone.  I kept looking back and around me as I continued down the slide path but there was nothing there — nothing visible at least.

When I got to Verdant Cabin I dumped my pack, opened the place up, hauled some water and sat down to brew a cup of tea to go with my lunch.  As I waited for the kettle to boil I head the thump of footsteps and, looking through the window, saw a fellow naturalist hiking past.  Not having expected to see anyone else in that valley, I went out and invited him in for tea.  It turned out he was doing a long day hike through the Verdant valley.

Before I could tell him what had happened to me, Jim said, “You know, I just had the strangest experience when I was coming down from Honeymoon Pass.”

It felt suddenly like the hair was standing up on my neck.  “How’s that?” I asked.

“I was just about to go into the trees at the bottom of that open slide path when I just got hit with this feeling of complete terror,” he said.  That would have been about seventy metres farther down the trail from where I’d had my experience.  “I couldn’t see anything there, but it was almost overpowering.”

Neither he nor I experienced anything like that on our way out of the valley later.  I still don’t know what it was.  I’m convinced that it wasn’t my subconscious picking up a nearby predator; it wasn’t the feeling of being watched.  It was an overwhelming sense of imminent doom.  Whatever the case, the cabin might be gone but I still think of Verdant Creek as a haunted valley.  In the aftermath of this summer’s burn it will likely be even more eerie.  I plan to go see once the trail re-opens.

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Home is the southwestern foothills and mountains of Alberta. Born and raised here into a fishing and hunting heritage which morphed into a fascination with nature, a commitment to conservation, a home place on the Oldman River, and a career in landscape ecology. Still in love after forty years of marriage, and proud of the good people our three offspring have grown up to be. No less proud of, and grateful for, the friends and neighbours whose community spirit, stewardship ethics and good humour make this such a good place, and a good life. Worried about their future, which is why I can't stop working to keep my home place good. I write books and things too.

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