thE MORTAL DUel

This is not necessarily the truth, but this is how it occurred for me.

In April of 2010 I was nearing the end of my third season working at a rural hotel located in the Marlborough Sounds of New Zealand. It is an hour by vehicle on a winding road to the nearest petrol station and basic food supplies and 2 hours to the nearest stoplight depending on which direction you head. To this day it is still some of the most breathtaking scenery I’ve ever witnessed. Turquoise waters surrounded by lush green mountains. I lived in a small house about one minute’s stroll to the sea. Two young Swedes, Joel and Simon, were staying there with me during that time.

A couple of months earlier the most incredible dog I’d ever met had wandered into my life and my heart. I’d nicknamed him “Pup” as he remained unclaimed. He was a medium sized mixed breed weighing approximately 30 pounds of pure muscle and agility. He was calm, quiet, and the most dedicated companion who would almost always obey. Pup was trained as a pig hunter and left behind in the woods as he probably strayed too far from his owner. When he found me he was emaciated and exhausted. I took him home, fed him and he was my loyal sidekick ever since.

It was an overcast day in the fall but not too cold. Simon, Joel, Pup, and myself, decided that we needed some exercise after a day of work. I’d been searching for a route straight up the mountain from my house, which I’d been told was marked with pink ribbon. I’d make it about halfway up before the trail disappeared and I’d get mired in dense forest scrub.

Everything started out fine as Joel and Simon took the lead and Pup ran off far into the wood. Soon, though, I noticed that the Swedes were treating this excursion like a workout rather than the mindful slow pace I prefer when deep in Nature. I’d learned the hard way that the forces of nature are not to be taken lightly. However, I said nothing as we plodded along up the steep terrain. We arrived at the spot where I had been stuck before as the trail apparently disappeared. We were surrounded by thick under growth. All of the sudden, a sound I had been dreading came from off to our left. If you’ve never heard an animal scream in terror before, it’s a heart stopping and awful noise. Pup had found a wild pig.

Wild pigs can grow upwards of 500 pounds in that area, and I was afraid for the Pup’s life. The three of us took off recklessly towards the screaming pig with Simon in the lead followed by myself and Joel. The mere thought of that sound still sends chills down my spine. We ran deeper into the thickness and up and down the steep mountain desperate to find Pup and his prey. I dislodged a few small rocks with my feet nearly hitting Simon below me and I thought to myself¬† that we should slow down or once of us will get hurt.

I heard Joel yell from up above me, “LOOK OUT!” I turned in time to see a small boulder tumbling right at me. I reacted and jumped straight up into the air as the rock went right underneath my airborne feet, just missing me. If I would’ve been hit I would’ve suffered a broken leg or worse. “SLOW DOWN!,” I yelled at them. “We should all SLOW DOWN!,” I reiterated.

What I saw next could almost be comical if the present situation weren’t so dire, as dog and pig rolled together down the mountain in a mortal duel right past my feet. To my relief, the Pup had challenged a pig not much larger than himself, although definitely of more girth. I yelled for Pup to “Stop!” to “Let Go!” over and over. We pursued them downwards as they continued fighting and crashing into rocks, trees, and bushes along the way down through the treacherous terrain.

I heard Simon scream in pain and I saw him begin to run back up the hill in my peripheral vision. I looked up to see an entire swarm of wasps, thousands of them, swirling in formation just a few feet away. Either the dog/pig fight or one of us had disrupted their home, and they were in defense mode. I was standing at the edge of a small cliff, maybe 15 to 20 feet down or so, with sharp rocks at the bottom. Jumping wasn’t an option unless I was reconsidering the broken legs or worse. My path directly up was blocked by Gorse, a thick and thorny feral bush. My escape choices were to jump off the rocky cliff, go through the Gorse, or directly through the swarm.

Wasps began to land on my clothes, ¬†and my bare face, neck and hands. The thought crossed my mind that if I didn’t move then they would calm and not consider me a threat. I became completely immersed in the timeless now as I stood there motionless. Those few seconds felt like hours. A voice whispered from inside of me, “You’re going to be alright.”

I felt the first sting the left side of my neck, and then immediately countless more everywhere. I howled and dove into the Gorse getting scratched by the thorns as the wasps continued stinging relentlessly. I cleared the bushes and began to run straight up as fast I could. Joel claimed later my primal screams sent him running back home in terror.

I came upon Simon about 100 yards away as the wasps gave up their pursuit. A good number of them that remained underneath my clothes continued to sting. I peeled off my clothes smashing wasps with my hands pulling them out of my armpits and other bodily orifices. They concentrated heavily on the top of my head for some reason, and I combed them out of my hair with my fingers, many still alive and attacking.

I wasn’t sure what was going to happen next. I’d been stung on a handful of times prior, but usually only one sting. I stood there naked, assessing my injuries and grateful for my life. I put my clothes back on and explained to Simon, who’d been stung just a few times, that we had to get down the mountain to the house and probably to the hospital. I had no idea what would happen from the stings and venom, whether I would pass out or die or maybe nothing.

We were way off the “trail” and had to bushwhack through thick bramble and backtrack a few times to find a way. I knew was that the ocean and my house were downwards but otherwise we were lost. I felt possessed by the massive amount of venom, adrenaline, and various other hormones coursing through my system. I’m certain I was in shock too.

We came to a small clearing near a dry stream bed when low and behold the pig appeared, wounded and bloody. It snarled and began to charge at me as I braced for another fight. I saw a flash of black as Pup arrived and sent the pig sprawling with a body blow. They began to duel again. I yelled for Pup to stop and he headed me this time and backed away. The pig did not move and I approached and looked into its weary eyes. It lay on its side, exhausted.

I’m not sure what compelled me to take the next action. I picked up the nearest hefty rock and yelled, “I’m sorry, I’m sorry” as I smashed the pig’s head. A surprisingly small amount of blood and brain came from the wound as the forest creature took its final breath.

I stared directly into its eyes and saw the life force exit. For a moment I admired the beauty of this feral animal as Pup came to my side. He was covered in blood, I couldn’t tell at that point if any of it was his. His expression was pure joy and I believe he expected to be congratulated for a job well done. I was furious, however, although I knew he was not to blame. He was just doing as he’d been trained. He seemed confused by my lack of enthusiasm and was panting hard. He found a small pool of water and lay down in it to cool off and drink. I lifted our now dead foe onto my shoulders and continued the descent.

Joel was waiting for us by the road when we finally emerged. He told me later my expression was that of a rabid beast, and it frightened him. I placed the body on the porch and locked Pup in the sun room. I called the nearest hospital, and explained the situation. It had been over an hour and I seemed to be ok despite the pain and shock. The receptionist strongly urged me to make the 1.5 hour car trip. Although I felt it was unnecessary, I acquiesced.

My van was equipped with a full size mattress in back, and I lay there as Simon drove with Joel in the passenger seat. It certainly wasn’t relaxing ride as the road is very curvy and hilly, and I rolled roughly around on each hard turn. We arrived at the hospital after dusk. Joel and Simon laughed at my appearance. I took a glimpse in the mirror and saw why. My head and face were swollen and red and my clothes torn and dirty. My eyes were haggard from the ordeal, as the fight or flight chemicals subsided and exhaustion began to settle in.

After a brief wait I met with a doctor. He gave me a comically brief check up and said I’d be fine. He sent me home with Aspirin. “Are you kidding me?” I said. “Can you give me anything stronger?” He said no and explained how socialized medicine worked in New Zealand. It was a free visit but there would be no unnecessary prescriptions. I just laughed. “What a complete waste of time,” I said.

I was ravenous. We stopped at a chain fried chicken restaurant (I was still eating obvious poison occasionally back then) and for the first time since we’d met, I ate faster and a bigger portion than my companions, both 10 years my junior.

The next days were followed with some of the most excruciating itching and pain I’d ever experienced. The venom was beneath the surface and nothing worked to alleviate the sensation. It began to dull within a few days and a week later it finally subsided. Not being one to waste a wild animal, we ate the pig.

A week later I ventured back into the mountain forest. At first the buzzing of the numerous wasps would nearly paralyze me. Soon though, I transcended my fear as my connection to deep nature exists in my very core. I didn’t hold a grudge against the swarm either, as we had disturbed their home. The wasps had been a constant since I moved to that part of New Zealand, but had never stung before, only a nuisance when I ate a meal outdoors.

Eventually Pup’s real owner was found. I cried as I dropped him off at a farm that day. A few months later I was back in the USA. Although my love for New Zealand and that particular place is strong, I have yet to return again. I will again someday, hopefully. “You’re going to be ok,” the voice from within said. And I was.

One thought on “thE MORTAL DUel

  1. Well written Craig! I am wondering if you have nine lives like a cat because you’ve experienced many “extreme adventures.” I hope you will write about the one when you crossed from Columbia-Panama with the drunk & “disabled” captain who left all of you aboard to survive the storm alone.

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