The pits. Everyone always wants to know about the mud pits. They want to know how it felt to search through the dark for a hidden location and then climb down into a muddy hole in the earth, the size and shape of a grave, and go to sleep for the night. Patience. First I had to dig it.
The first step was to find a good location. One of my teammates picked a spot surrounded by fallen trees. My first thought when I saw it was, “that’s the perfect place to hide a scout pit.” My second thought was, “wait, if that was my first thought, it’d be the first thought of someone searching for it.” I then realized that I had to dig my secret den of sleeping in plain sight. That was, until I realized that I’d thought of that idea second, and so would someone hunting me. In fact, maybe someone looking for me would be so sure I’d never fall for hiding my pit in the obvious place that the obvious place was exactly where I should dig. Soon this lead to the inevitable game of, “clearly I cannot chose the glass in front of me.” At last I split the difference by finding a spot in a fairly open clearing with enough saplings protruding from the ground that there was just barely enough room for a person to fit between them. More importantly, it would be hard to imagine that someone could fit between them.
I started by carefully clearing away and saving the top layer of decaying leaves and twigs. They were going to be the camouflage I would use to rebuild the forest floor as it was. Then I started enthusiastically carving out the dirt beneath with my small shovel. I had known we’d be traveling some distance to the site of our hidden camps and so I opted for a collapsing german army shovel. I think it cost me about $25 at a military surplus shop. The little green tri-folding tool took some serious abuse without complaint. One edge was serrated, which was perfect for cutting through the tough layers of roots near the surface. The front came to a point, and I could use that to hack at the thick clay to loosen it up before shoveling it out. Unfortunately, despite all of it’s great features, the shovel could not escape its tiny size.
After six hours of furious digging, pauses to pant and stare blankly at the ground, mad, aimless stabbing at dirt, ceaseless sweating in the rain, and general psychological mayhem as I forced myself time and again to keep digging, I still wasn’t done. I just couldn’t move enough earth with that tiny shovel. It didn’t help that I’d also come across a number of massive rocks. I’d had to use a whole slew of levering and digging and tugging tactics before I could heave them out, their resistance stubborn and unrelenting until the last. It was like trying to get my housemate Dhruv Bansal out of bed for a morning game of squash. Actually, in both cases pouring water on them helped to some extent. So did yelling.
Graham emerges from one of our scout pits
The class had to continue, so in the end we compromised. Our team of four joined forces the next morning to finish two scout pits and we rotated nights sleeping in them. I was really disappointed in myself for not having been able to finish one completely solo, but the massive blisters on my thumbs and palms (in rock climbing we call them “bloody flappers” when they reach that point) were enough badges of honor to justify moving on to the next challenge.
As it turns out, the scout pits were really comfortable. The walls weren’t wet and muddy, but solid and cool to the touch. The thick layer of dirt on top was enough to stop water from getting in and acted as insulation. There was plenty of room and maybe it was because I live with six housemates already, but the guests didn’t bother me. There were only a couple of large spiders, crickets, and beetles that decided to wander through my crude door to join me and none of them had any intention of harming me. I actually enjoyed having them around. It made everything feel more authentic somehow.
In the morning I climbed up out into the early morning light, the dewey ground and the smell of the damp leaves all around me, feeling very woven into the woods. I felt refreshed and exhilarated. I wasn’t a stranger wrapped in plastic, I was alive and a part of it all.