I had always wanted to hike up Mount Horrid. An opportunity presented past fall when my husband was away on business. On a sunny day, Kovil, my German shepherd dog, and I drove out to Mt Horrid marveling at the blue sky and the splash of brilliantly colored fall foliage across the face of the mountain that loomed tall and majestic in front of me.
At the bottom of Mt Horrid, Vermont forest service maintains a visitor’s log book. I entered my name, address, phone number and number of persons accompanying me – one dog – in this log book and took my first step on the trail at 2:30 pm. Kovil was on a leash but as always, he seemed very happy to be able to explore the great outdoors.
Mt Horrid trail is 0.6 miles of steep, well-marked and maintained ascent. At the summit, Mt Horrid trail joins Long Trail that begins in Massachusetts – Vermont line and goes all the way to the Canadian border. Long Trail is well traveled by seasoned hikers but on this particular day I did not see anyone going up or coming down. This did not strike me as odd. Having lived in Vermont for twenty years, I am accustomed to encountering absolutely breathtaking natural beauty and having it all to myself. Often there is no crowd of tourists.
The summit on Mt Horrid trail commands a majestic view of the valley below and the town of Rochester where I lived and worked as a homeopath. I was looking forward to this visual treat. With frequent rest and stretching, I was up at the summit at 4:30 pm.
As I sat down to relax and enjoy the view from the bald, rocky cliff at the summit, I saw the sun disappearing quickly over a tall mountain behind me. It was not yet the hour of sunset, but unlike the plains, in the mountains, the sun drops down behind a mountain and you get an extended twilight. I sensed a shift in humidity and felt the lull and quiet before a storm. Dark clouds came over in matter of minutes. Several bolts of lightning streaked across the sky followed by booming thunder. Kovil was never a fan of noisy storms and he whined and stuck very close to me. Strong winds kicked in. Kovil and I avoided going anywhere close to the edge of the rocky cliff. There was no one in sight. My cell phone was now useless because it could not see the cell phone tower. I felt a few rain drops on my skin first and a torrential downpour soon followed. I did not have a rain jacket with me. My dog and I were at the mercy of the elements. As the storm churned through the woods, I heard trees creaking, branches breaking off and falling to the forest floor with a loud swoosh. The evergreens, now appearing much darker, waved their crowns this way and that in agreement with the wind.
What an unexpected and wild storm! It was pointless taking shelter under a tree. If and when the storm abated, it would be after sunset and total darkness would settle upon the woods. I decided to resume descent.
To avoid slipping on wet rocks, I stepped on to the side of the trail and began walking on the soggy dirt. At one point, I missed a step and fell on my rear. My eye glasses went flying off my nose and disappeared into the undergrowth. Unmindful of this loss, I pressed on. After a few minutes on the trail, I got confused about the trail marking and took a right turn instead of left. In the next few minutes I realized I had strayed off the trail. Panic arose in me. Rainstorm continued. I stumbled on rocks and deadwood on the forest floor and unable to see the ground clearly, I stepped onto a pile of soggy leaves. I felt one sting. Ouch. Oh, no, second sting. Ouch. Oh, no, then the next, the next and the next. I had walked into an in-ground wasp nest. Considering me to be an intruder, the angry wasps came after me in droves. In pain and shock, I ran madly here and there, just trying to get away from the angry wasps. I lost all sense of direction and I was now screaming in indescribable pain.
Kovil kept up with me. Through his thick coat, the wasps could not get to him but I was roast. Nothing mattered now – not the darkness, not that I was alone in the wilderness, not the raging storm. All that mattered was my pain…I was stung on arms, legs, face, lips, eye, ears, back….damn the wasps.
Still screaming and running wildly, I came upon a clearing. Through the pelting rain, I noticed a few mature trees, few young ones and some lush undergrowth, but it was a clearing none the less. In the far end of the clearing, I saw what looked like a hunting cabin, or a farm house. Though unsure, I made a dash in the direction of this building hoping to find help.
Midway in to the clearing, I think I saw a person getting up from a rocking chair and going into the building. ‘Help, help me’ I yelled as I stumbled closer to the building and then I collapsed onto the deck. The rocking chair was now empty but it was still rocking in the strong wind. No one appeared on the deck for the next few minutes.
After what seemed like ages, a man’s voice asked me, ‘who are you madam?’ I could barely see him – my one good eye was welling up non-stop with tears and the other was closed shut having swollen up from a sting. Through my distorted cheeks and lips, I mumbled, ‘Got stung by wasps. Going to Rochester.’
‘Who is this?’ a woman’s voice.
‘A lost traveler. Got stung. Needs help.’ a man’s voice.
‘Bee or wasp?’
‘Wasp, she says.’
‘Give her ledum.’
‘Ledum is good for bites, stings and puncture wounds but do bring me apis 200. It will prevent anaphylactic shock.’
‘You mean ledum will not?’
‘Ledum puncture wounds tend to be cold to touch. She is drenched in rain. Her stings are still hot like burning coal. Hurry. Apis 200.’
Pain had totally overtaken my sensoria. I became oblivious to my surroundings and any commotion therein. I collapsed on the deck with my wet clothes, soggy shoes and my wet dog whimpering but sticking close to me.
A strong beam of light falling right into my eyes awakened me. Slowly I became aware of my surroundings. Sun was shining brightly on the eastern sky. It could be around 8 am. I wondered where I was. The stings still hurt but not too badly and the swelling as well as redness had all but gone and that, I thought, was remarkable. Untreated, wasp stings may take up to a week to get better. I opened my eyes and looked around. I was sprawled on the deck of an old house and this deck was in urgent need of severe repair. The rocking chair was on the deck, quite close to me. I reached out and touched it. The door leading into the house was ajar. I listened for sounds from the house but none came. I touched my dog. I raised myself and decided to go into the house, look for the couple, thank them for their help and head back home. I knocked. No one responded. I called out. No one answered. I stepped into the house. ‘Mam, sir, thank you for your help….’ as I was forming those words in my mind, my lips began quivering. I was shaking like a leaf in the storm. My mouth dried up. The house, a ruin, was in complete disrepair with no, absolutely no sign of any life what so ever.
I ran out and away at my topmost speed. Kovil kept up with me. In a few minutes, I came upon the part of the trail where I had taken the wrong turn. In the daylight, I could now see the town of Rochester in the valley below on the eastern side of Mt Horrid. I jumped, hopped, skipped, slid, fell, got up and ran again without once looking back toward the building. Within the next hour I was home.
My husband was still away. I was totally out of my mind. It was a fact that I had hiked up Mt Horrid yesterday, got stuck in the rainstorm, got stung by wasps ( my current count was 70 stings) and these facts could be verified. After getting stung, I had become confused and crazy from pain, run wildly and chanced upon a building. I had laid down on the deck. If someone had lived there and had indeed helped me, why could I not see them in the morning? Was it a dream? Was I helped? I think I was. There is no other way to explain such a quick relief from swelling, redness and pain from wasp stings. Who helped me?
I decided to look into the history of Rochester hoping to find some clues. The oldest person in Rochester, Mrs. Willard, is the go-to historian and when I called her, she sounded happy to be of help. At 96 years of age she is sharp as a whip but is not driving anymore so she asked me over. Our conversation flowed smoothly and she mentioned that she remembered the old farm house in Mt. Horrid as a deserted ruin that was once the house of the local homeopath, Dr. Trask. She remembered her mother saying how Dr. Trask and his wife, a nurse, were helpful to her mother for childbirths and how sad her mother was at the tragedy that struck the Trasks. Mrs. Willard pulled out a scrap book from her library and opened the page of an obituary.
I gathered from reading this obituary that after Rochester was settled in 1781, the Trask family moved in 1795, laid claim to 1200 acres of land on the eastern slope of Mt. Horrid and built a farm house. Born in1805, Dr. Retire built Old Weber house in the south end of Rochester and established his medical practice. He used his father’s farm house on Mt. Horrid as his summer clinic. In 1897 Dr. Trask and his wife died in a chimney fire that burned down the farm house.
Another news clipping from 1910 said that the descendants of Dr. Trask donated the entire 1200 acres of land around Mt. Horrid to the green mountain club that had just began working on Long Trail. Upon completion of Long Trail, Trask family built 0.6 miles of trail on the eastern slope of Mt. Horrid so that hikers could access Long Trail from the Rochester side.
I could go on digging more, but I concluded, based on my research, that the night of wasp sting I was helped by a couple who had died in a fire accident in 1897.
I took leave of Mrs. Willard and came home fully convinced that on my hike, I had in fact seen beings from another realm and this realization rattled me. I anxiously awaited my husband’s return from his business trip. The moment he saw me at the airport he asked, ‘what happened to you?’ I burst into sobs as I narrated my experience and the facts my research had dug up. He offered to drive us home and instead of going home straight, he took a detour and parked at the base of Mt. Horrid. ‘You have to reconcile your experience and the facts. I know you do not like loose ends. Let us go’ he said as he grabbed my hand and began hiking up the trail in quick steps.
We reached the spot where I had taken the wrong turn. I directed him towards the farm house. Of course, the farm house and even the rocking chair were still there. As we stepped in through the open front door, we saw that the back part of the house had burned down. Some walls were burned to the ground. Front room, kitchen and the deck where still recognizable, but were quite dark and weather-beaten. ‘No one has lived here since the fire’ my husband said as he walked around the front room. I watched the expression on his face change as he stomped on a section of the floor and said, ‘Some hollow space here.’ He wedged a stick in the gap between the floor boards and lifted a few boards. Plumes of dust arose and the house creaked. Critters dashed across the room annoyed that their hiding place was now discovered by humans. My husband had chanced upon a rock-lined hollow on the ground that was discreetly covered up by loose floor boards. In the hollow lay a metal chest. He opened it carefully. The rusty hinges resisted the move but gave in to the persistence of prying hands. Inside the box we found a few books, and the fourth edition of Hering’s condensed materia medica, published by Boericke and Taffle in 1894, three years before Dr. Trask’ death. There were some handwritten notes and manuscripts as well, but the ink was quite faded, making it rather difficult to read. We saw a smaller chest and on opening it, we encountered a set of remedies, each in a neatly labeled glass vial and closed tightly with a cork. The labels were fading, but I could definitely see ledum and apis, in 30 and 200c, among other remedies that I was able to recognize. With trembling hands I looked through Hering’s book and read about apis and ledum.
Though it was still hard for me to comprehend the line that divides the living from the dead, and who can or could help whom, the facts and my experience were reconciling right in front of my eyes, in the broad day light, thanks to my husband’s bold intention and initiative to help me make sense of my experience.
I wanted to take the remedy chest and the book home with me believing that somehow, the presence of remedies in the spot where I had collapsed in pain had helped me heal. I asked myself, if the remedies could help, even when they are not ingested?
‘Put that book down exactly as and where you found it. Over one hundred years old, this is an antiquarian book now. Replace the remedy chest gently in its exact place. Let us close up the hollow and go’ my husband said in a clear and firm voice, ‘You take nothing. These remedies are here for the lost travelers.’
That is the best thing to do, I said, as we headed home.