Lost boy finds himself in UnionDonn Fendler, famous for 'Lost on a Mountain in Maine' visits local school students
Union — Students and teachers listened in fascinated silence Sept. 25 at Union Elementary School as visiting author Donn Fendler talked about spending nine days lost in the wilds of Maine when he was 12 years old.
The book about Fendler's struggle to survive, "Lost on a Mountain in Maine," has become something of a classic and a staple in Maine schools for years.
It was 73 years ago, in the summer of 1939, that Fendler got separated from his father and brother on a hike up Mount Katahdin. Panicking, he first climbed off-trail down the mountain and then followed a stream through the woods for more than 35 miles before being rescued. For most of the hike, he was barefoot.
Now 86, the author said he bears no scars, physical or mental, from his ordeal. However, he did describe being very scared as a 12-year-old boy sleeping in the woods at night and running into bears in the day. He also was very lonely.
He also described strange visions the morning after his first night of being lost.
"What I'm going to tell you, you don't have to believe," he said. "But what I saw was so real it was like me looking at you. I looked to my left and there was Henry's head sitting on a stump." (Henry was a member of his hiking party who he was now separated from).
He said he followed the gaze of the disembodied head:
"...And there are these three or four guys in robes and hoods, flashing orange eyes, and their arms outstretched, pointing at Henry. And in my mind, ...they were hypnotizing him, telling him not to help me."
Doctors later told Fendler he was in shock and having hallucinations, but he said the visions were very real at the time.
While he was lost, more than 500 people were hunting for him and his story made headlines in the national news.
He ate only a diet of wild strawberries and joked that it was a "great weight reducing program." He didn't eat some berries and mushrooms because he didn't know what they were and some in the wild are poisonous.
He was fortunate to not get an infection from his cut feet, something he believes was helped by his spending so much time in the water of the stream, keeping cuts clean. His greatest problems were lack of food, cold and insect bites.
Toward the end of his time in the woods, as he was walking along the stream unknowingly getting closer to rescue, he started passing out periodically. He would wake and find himself on the ground. He said there were times when he could get up, but there were times when he couldn't get back up.
Fendler, who noted he is Catholic, said that during those instances, he felt his guardian angel's hands helping him back up.
He was rescued by a family staying at a cabin along the stream. The husband canoed across the stream to pick up Fendler, who had passed out again, and brought him back to the cabin and placed the boy in his wife's arms. Fendler and the woman looked at each other and cried, he said.
For a time afterward, he would be found crawling out of his bed at night and sleeping on the floor.
Students at the Union school have completed a unit studying Fendler's story and drawing their own graphic novel versions. Fendler said he receives hundreds of letters every year from children full of questions about what he went through, and he answers every one.
Fendler said he visits Baxter State Park every year.
Students were treated not only to his description of events, but also to film footage from shortly after his rescue and his ride by canoe from the point of rescue to the nearest town.
Fendler also offered practical advice to avoid sharing his fate including things to carry on a hike (water, a first aid kit, sports drinks, food, knife, compass, poncho). He noted that while some people try to use sticks and sparks off metal to start fires, matches are a sure thing and can be carried in a waterproof case.
He also stressed the value of a whistle worn round the neck for hikers. He said when you're lost, you'll holler and shout for help until your voice gives out, but a whistle can be used much longer to make noise so searchers can find you.
When hiking, the members of the party should stay together. If you get lost, he said, instead of trying to find your way out, as soon as you realize you are lost, stay in one place so those searching can find you.
He also urges hikers to follow the rules at parks such as Baxter State Park.
Fendler said he never saw a moose during his time in the woods. However, as if in preparation for the day's visit, the kids in his class reported seeing a moose that morning on their way to school while they were on the bus.
The author told them how lucky they were.
News Editor Daniel Dunkle can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on twitter at @DanDunkle.