I've always known I have a passel of guardian angels, and I surely needed one of them last Saturday. This one came wearing a Game Commission uniform. No, my life wasn't in any danger - this time - but I did need some help. Let me explain.
My deer hunting buddy, Dick Ryan of Altoona, and I set out to go deer hunting on the last day of the senior-citizen antlerless deer hunt. We went to some local state game lands with a plan and enough gear to bivouac for a week. The morning went fine; I spent it creeping around a ridge of mountain laurel in the hopes of stirring up a couple of deer that might offer one of us a shot. No such luck, however.
After a couple of hours of this, I called Dick on my radio and told him I was about a quarter-mile from him so to stay on the trail and I would be there in a while. I consulted my compass to make sure of the direction and started off.
I knew that the little stream I was beside would lead me right up to the trail. But then I came to a place I didn't remember. The stream made a bit of a right hand curve, and the stream I had been following was totally dried up. I made the wrong decision. I followed the water.
After a bit, I began to realize that I should have been out to the trail already. I took a good look around and realized I had made a wrong decision. I recognized the surroundings and knew exactly where I was. I could backtrack and get up to where Dick was, or I could go on. I knew where I would come out. I made the decision to keep on going, and when I got out onto the road again, I would call Dick on the radio and tell him to bring the truck around and pick me up.
I decided on that course on this basis: to backtrack meant that I would have to do some uphill climbing and my senior citizen legs said, "Keep Going!" Everything would have been fine except for something I hadn't counted on. When I got out to the game lands road, I was about a mile from Dick as the crow flies, but about three miles from him by the road.
I pulled out the radio and called for Dick. And called. And called again. Then it dawned on me that my signal was not getting to him, and he couldn't hear me. So now, my choices were that I could backtrack through the woods all that way or I could walk the road to him, which would also mean a long uphill slog.
Fortunately, before we had left the truck that morning I had reminded Dick of where I keep the extra key in case he needed to use the truck for any reason. As I pondered my dilemma, I realized that I'd have to take the road because if I backtracked through the woods, Dick was liable to realize our communication was broken and start driving around looking for me. I realized that by the time I would get back to the truck, it and Dick would very likely not be there.
So as I was berating myself for having made a foolish decision to follow the water, I set off to start hiking the miles between us, keeping to the road so that Dick would see me if he came driving along. I had already tramped a couple of miles through the woods in this little jaunt and was not looking forward to the hike ahead of me.
A truck full of hunters came along and stopped, but I told them my buddy was going to pick me up soon. But I didn't tell them that at that moment he did not have any idea where I was. But I was not about to get into a vehicle with people I didn't know.
My next thought was to call Dick on his cell phone, but guess what? I did not have his number with me, and I found out later he did not have my cell phone number with him either. How dumb can you get?
I'm sure I heard the faint guffaws of laughter as I stood there forlornly on the road watching that truck disappear in the distance. "OK guys, she's at it again," said one angel to the other. I'm sure I heard that. What I actually heard was another vehicle coming down the little dirt road I was standing on. When it stopped, I looked into the vehicle, and there he was - Game Commission patches shining brightly. I breathed a sigh of thanksgiving and when the officer's face cleared of what was a surprising event for him - to see a female alone out in those boonies.
Well, my angel's name is Bill McCombie, a game lands maintenance supervisor for Cambria County. He gave me a lift, and off we went to find my friend. We soon saw him. Just as I figured, he was patrolling the roads, trying to locate me.
We had a great conversation when we all got together, most of it centering on how many mistakes I had made. And indeed, I had. Not realizing that perhaps we would be too far for our radios to work; not having one another's cell phone numbers but most of all for making a wrong decision in a moment of indecision.
We did hunt the rest of the day. We saw no deer, but I did run onto several new rubs and several new scrapes. And Officer MaCombie related his night patrols in the area and how many poachers there are out there trying to pick off what deer there are. I'm grateful someone is out there trying to stop them. I'm especially grateful for the long, uphill slog that his timely arrival spared me.