New England’s forests are not exactly the deep, dark jungle of adventure books and if you’re an outdoors person it’s easy to take them lightly. But a story about a lost horse shows that they can be surprisingly deadly.

I recommend you read Ray Duckler’s take on the story in the Monitor (read it here), but the summary goes like this: A horse bolted from its rider in Bear Brook State Park, a popular park that is riddled with trails which get used by lots of hikers, riders and motorsports fans. The horse never returned and as the news spread, scores of people searched for it without success. After 20 days it was found dead, a quarter-mile from where it bolted.

It seems amazing that a half-ton animal couldn’t be found when it was less than 2,000 feet away from trails used by many people, but that’s not a surprise to anybody who has gotten lost in New Hampshire woods. Consider the story of Geraldine Largey, the Appalachian Trail thru-hiker who died of starvation and exposure because nobody could find her even though she was camping barely two miles from the A.T. in Maine.

Our woods are young, because we cut them all down a century ago. They haven’t had time for huge deciduous trees to shade out all the underbrush, and as a result you usually can’t see very far in any direction. Sound gets muffled by all that growth and is a poor guide as it bounces off hillocks and rocks.

If you don’t have a compass or a dependable guide like a flowing creek, it’s easy to walk in circles while you think you’re going in a straight line.

I speak, alas, from experience.

Two winters ago my family and I did a Christmas hike about a mile off Rt. 113A, near Tamworth. It was snowing hard but we were doing a well-established loop and weren’t worried, although nobody had gone on it recently and we had to break trail in deep snow.

Halfway through, the blazes suddenly disappeared (plus, they were white – not good in a snow storm) and the trail petered out in endless thickets of young birch/beech trees. Circumventing this mess we got turned around and suddenly we were lost. Then we realized that back-tracking might not work, as the snow was getting heavier and our trail was filling in, and I had visions of calling 911 on Christmas Day to be rescued barely a mile from a busy-ish road. I would never have lived that down.

Fortunately my son didn’t panic as much as I did and we finally found a blaze and the trail, but the memory has stuck with me.

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