Spirit in the Woods

The story I am about to tell is a mixture of personal observation by both myself and my wife, a strange happenstance meeting with a previously unknown person who mysteriously appeared on my doorstep at two o’clock in the morning, and a recent story from loggers on a property adjacent to ours that was relayed to me by my neighbors. I will let you draw your own conclusions. I have my opinions that I will keep to myself. I can only report to you what we have learned and observed.

Some 40 years ago I bought a piece of land on Taylor Brook Road. I intended to clear some land, build a house, and pursue typical homestead activities including raising animals, growing fruit and vegetables, and living a simple life as I felt I was intended to do. What I did not know was the surprises that this land held for me and my wife Maureen who joined me on the land in 1980.

The land I had originally bought was a lot broken out of an 80 acre piece. I bought the last parcel of the four. Prior to buying the property the realtor took me up a woods road to a small six sided cabin in the woods. The cabin was built out of pole size logs stacked artfully around a center ridge pole. It was constructed in a manner similar to a yurt. There was a magical feeling to it that I could not explain. The realtor told me that a woman, who called herself Pasha, had squatted on the land, built a cabin, and had lived there for about five years before she was discovered when the absentee owner decided to sell the land. He sold it to a realty trust who subdivided the land and during the surveying process Pasha, the cabin, and her little known lifestyle was discovered. Evidently Pasha had acquired critical skills that allowed her to live in the woods, largely unnoticed, and without the benefit of transportation leaving her with no good way of going to a store to buy groceries and the other necessities of life. She was largely self sufficient. She built a cabin, mostly from materials at hand on the land, harvested wild edibles from the woods and nearby Taylor Brook, and managed to survive alone as far as anyone could tell for more than several years all the while bringing very little attention to herself. Richard Giard, the closest full time neighbor to the property once described to me that he occasionally saw her, usually crossing the road gathering water or in search of trout. She often was wearing a simple long cotton dress. He stated that she came and went in a glimpse and had a ghost like quality in the way she could just disappear. In later years, asking around about what people knew about Pasha, I learned that she was occasionally seen hitch hiking into Shelburne Falls where she presumably bought necessities that aided in her survival.

Pasha's cabin as it appears today in its present state of disrepair.

The property owner and realtor were worried about her living on the land. They were concerned about an “adverse possession” scenario because she had lived there for an extended time and so they offered to buy her a plane ticket to any where in the United States. After a few weeks, seeing the handwriting on the wall, she reluctantly agreed to take the ticket and return to her place of origin, San Francisco, California.

The realtor told me that the cabin came with the property. I was immediately determined to find a way to buy the parcel. Having absolutely no money in those days was not seen by me as an impediment. With much diligence I finally came up with a down payment that would put the deed in my hands. After I bought the land I found out that the cabin was actually located on the parcel to my west. I could not have been more disappointed but decided that any legal hassle was not within my financial possibilities. I made the best out of the situation and enjoyed the land that I did purchase. As it turned out years later my wife and I eventually ended up owning both parcels.

For a few years I lived on my land in a tipi, year round, with my hounds. We cleared land, dug a well by hand, harvested logs for lumber, and generally prepared to build a house. As luck would have it I met a wonderful woman who captured my heart and whom I still am in love with to this day. Maureen loved the land on which I lived but for some reason that I couldn’t for the life of me fathom refused to join me in the tipi. This being the case I reluctantly agreed to build a cabin where we could live together while we built our house. Living in the little cabin would proved to produce some of our best memories. We loved the simple life devoid of electricity and other modern conveniences.

During our first fall season in the cabin we experienced a very strange incident. It was in mid November and we had an early snow where a few inches of the white stuff was left on the ground. This being the first snow of the year we were in a festive mood. Inside the cabin on this dark evening where a hot wood stove kept us warm we were listening to Prairie Home Companion on the radio and playing a rousing game of Yahtzee. The hounds were huddled by the stove curled up in tight circles seemingly enjoying the warmth from the fire. Out of nowhere we heard a woman’s voice coming from outside. Visitors were not common so we were a little surprised. The dogs stood up, the hair on their backs stood straight up on end. Despite the warmth from the stove the room became cold. I turned the radio off. We heard what sounded like foot steps outside and to the rear of the cabin. The dogs moved away from the wood stove and cowered under a small table that we had placed against one wall of the cabin. The two hounds, both large and normally self assured, were displaying behavior we had never previously witnessed.

I went outside with a flash light, somewhat reluctantly I might add, to greet the visitor. I was quite surprised to see no one. Shining the flashlight into the inky night in every direction I was shocked that no person was there. There was however a set of tracks in the freshly fallen snow. Small human foot prints that led up to the back of the cabin and stopped. There were no tracks leading away from the cabin. I shined the flashlight, once again, into the dark shroud that enveloped our cabin. There was nothing but a cold blast of air that at the time I rationalized as a frigid breeze blowing out of the northwest.

Maureen and I were shaken. We wondered if there was someone there and they had left. We justified that the tracks that apparently came from nowhere and vanished with no visible retreat were covered by snow that filled in from the wind even though the breeze was light. After about an hour the dogs came out from underneath the table and returned to their place in front of the wood stove. That night when I stepped outside before going to bed to get firewood to fill the stove. I once again burned a hole into the night with a beam from the flashlight hoping to see something that would explain the nights events. The dark evening was filled with absolute silence. Maureen and I held each other that night as we drifted off to sleep.

The next day I explored the tracks. They began only about 50 feet from the cabin and ended at the back of the cabin, precisely where we heard the woman’s unintelligible voice the night before. We had no explanation for what had happened and filed the entire incident in a category marked in our minds as “unknown”.

Over the next year there was nothing new to report regarding this incident, other than at times when I was alone in the woods I would feel as if someone was watching me. But a year later in mid-November, this time I was alone at the cabin as Maureen was away at a conference, another strange occurrence took place. It was a late afternoon. I had been cutting wood all day and was now making dinner in the cabin. I heard footsteps in the leaves. The dogs once again jumped up from there familiar position in front of the wood stove, the hair on the their backs straight up on end, and retreated to a dark corner of the cabin where this time they began growling. I stopped what I was doing and listened. There was no voice, only the sound of something walking in the leaves. I went outside half expecting to see a black bear wandering around the edge of the cabin. There was nothing. And when I say nothing, I mean nothing. The air was as still and as cold as it would be in a coffin six feet under ground. I felt shaken to the core.

Fast forward about a decade. Maureen and I have two children, we are living in the house that we built. We all live simply with only a few electrical appliances running on solar electricity but now we have indoor plumbing and hot water. We are as happy as clams because we are living a dream Life is very good.

It is September and one night there is pounding on the door at two o’clock in the morning. Thinking something is terribly wrong I go to the door, admittedly I had a baseball bat hidden in my left hand, only to see a man leaning against the door. I opened the door. The poor fellow was terribly drunk. The first thing out of his mouth is “I was out reminiscing and ended up here. You probably don’t know this but I helped build this house!” I was a little taken aback because I had never seem this individual before in my life. I tried to explain that my wife and I had built this house and he had no hand in it whatsoever however his extreme inebriation altered any potential for him to reason and my words were lost.

I could see that he had tried to back down our driveway, driven completely off of a 60 degree precipice, and the car was in danger of rolling over. I didn’t see the fellow as a threat but I surely didn’t want to invite him into our house to sleep it off and I was reluctant to call the police. So I decided to give him a sleeping bag, drive him up the woods road to the cabin built by Pasha, which at that time was still in reasonably good shape, and let him sleep it off. The bumpy ride up the woods road proved to much for him and we had to stop mid way for him to do some more “reminiscing” this time with him on all fours with him turning almost inside out as the alcohol exited his stomach as he was violently sick from his over-indulgence.

The next morning I went to retrieve him. He was sitting on the steps with a big smile. He waved as I came into view in my truck. The first words out of his mouth were “I helped build this place!” Now my curiosity was truly piqued.

His name was Mike. Years ago he knew some folks who lived nearby and was fishing for brook trout in Taylor Brook the first time he saw Pasha. He said she kept her distance but didn’t seem afraid. She gathered water in an old bucket and left. She never looked back. And without any reason he said he followed her. Following her up an old woods road he told me he called out several times and she turned around but said nothing. He nearly caught up to her when they came to a clearing in the woods. She was building a cabin out of pole size trees. She was in the process of skinning each log with a hunting knife. He asked her if he could help. He said she smiled and simply said yes. He told me he looked over the situation and had an idea. He told her he would return the next day. She smiled but said nothing.

The next morning he returned with a draw shave, a new buck saw, and a hammer and nails. Over the next few weeks they built the cabin. He wasn’t there everyday but helped when he could. She told him her name was Pasha. She didn’t own this land. She believed no one could own land. She simply wanted to live free and be left alone, although she certainly appreciated his help. After the cabin was complete he occasionally returned to visit. She was always friendly but still a little distant. He moved away but stayed in touch when he came the area. As fate would have it he visited her just before she left for San Francisco. He gave her his address, he now lived in a different area of the northeast. To his surprise she wrote to him. She had found peace and joined the People’s Temple that was about to leave the country in search of a free life. This commune was lead by a charismatic leader. His name was Jim Jones. Mike never heard from Pasha again.

Mike told me that he presumed that Pasha had perished in 1978 in Guyana along the with the other 900 plus followers of Jones who committed mass suicide. When he told me this a chill penetrated me to my inner most core. The massacre at Guyana had taken place on November 18, 1978 precisely two years before our first encounter in the cabin in 1980.

Mike and I managed to pull his truck off the side of the hill that day. He thanked me, as he said in his own words, “for allowing him to complete the circle” before he left. I wasn’t quite sure at the time what he meant by that but his statement was heartfelt and real. He left and I never saw again. When I relayed this story to Maureen she thought I was pulling her leg. At first she couldn’t believe it. How could this be real?

Again, fast forward to 2013. The land west of our homestead is being heavily logged. The loggers are using heavy machinery including forwarders and skidders. The job seems to be taking unusually long considering the type of equipment that is being used. In fact for quite some time it seems to be at a stand still. In December, at my oldest son’s wedding I am sitting with our neighbors and they tell me an unusual story. They learned this story from the property owner whose land is being logged. It was told to him by the loggers.

After the logging operation had begun at the end of one hard day of work, and almost at dark, one of the loggers operating the forwarder notices that another logger is acting strangely. It is as if he is battling an unseen foe with his chainsaw. He is stabbing at it, swiping at it. He runs from it. And then the logger in the machine notices a ball of light. The ball of light seems to be harassing the logger with the chainsaw. The ball of light is like a giant fire fly. It glows and artfully moves through the dark night. It is scaring the living hell out of the logger. The logger drops his saw and runs. The light zips off into the night. The fellow in the forwarder runs over to the other logger who is frightened and agitated beyond reason. He swears he will never, ever return to this property.

A few days later at day break the logger in the forwarder is working up on the forested hill near where they saw the ball of light. He sees the light hovering at the edge of a clear cut. He drives the forwarder towards the ball of light and it moves up a a cut trail towards the ridge line above. He follows to see where it goes because it is running away. Eventually he watches it disappear into a hole in a tree. By some strange coincidence the ball of light flies into a tree that those who know the area, including myself, call the Devil’s Pitchfork. A maple, once struck by lightning, that has three major limbs sticking straight up into the air, arranged like a pitchfork, with the trunk of the tree forming the handle. The Devil’s Pitchfork is located not 300 yards from Pasha’s cabin.

Upon hearing this story I had the same chill rush down my spine that I experienced the first time I learned that Pasha may have perished at Jonestown.

As I said in the beginning, I am only relaying to you what I have observed and learned. I will let you be the judge.

Me? I am at peace with this. I have learned that these strange goings on are part of my reality.

And I have to wonder on this Hallow eve, are they part of yours?
Originally written in October 2014 for the Heath Historical Society’s Halloween “Dining with History” where I read this aloud as part of an evening of hallowed history and fun.

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