Last night, a buddy of mine said, “Hey, have you seen Long Weekend? It has a terrifying manatee in it!”

Since that is a sentence that I never expected to hear in this lifetime, I told him that I had not and we settled in to watch 88 minutes of strange Australian horror.

Being Australian, it has a dugong, not a manatee, but sure enough the sea cow in question did manage to make me jump out of my chair at one point, which is not too shabby for one of nature’s most notoriously harmless and soothing creatures.


The film also featured hostile possums and a satisfying variety of angry birds, along with the Australia-requisite menacing snakes and spiders. But sudden inexplicable animal behavior, though vital to the plot, is not the only scare factor in Long Weekend (which I should note here was released in the U.S. under the title Nature’s Grave, and should never be confused with the dumb Canadian comedy The Long Weekend. Also, I watched the 2008 remake, not the 1978 original.) The crux of nature’s revenge on our dreadful protagonists is that they get lost, and stay lost, leaving them psychologically broken and at the mercy of a world so outside their comfort zone that they bought ten thousand dollars worth of camping equipment to cope with it for three days. Landmarks go awry, distances change, trees and animals throw themselves in front of motor vehicles to cut off escape. These vacationers can check out of nature any time they like, but they can never leave.

This made me think back, oddly enough, to my childhood. There was an old apple orchard in the cow pasture on my parent’s farm. It was not really big enough to get lost in, unless you were a kid. Which I was. My mom, an instinctive pantheist, told us that there were faries in the orchard and that was why we would get turned around and not be able to come back out the way we went in. It was sort of a game, getting lost in there. It meant you’d been in contact with something otherworldly, and that was cool. Of course, it’s a lot more fun when you know your parents will be able to come and find you before dinner if need be.

So growing up in the kindly, settled east, the idea of being lost was more thrilling that terrifying — which makes me simultaneously more open to nature and, let’s face it, more naive. I’ve been “lost” in Prospect Park and Jamaica Bay to no worse consequence than sunburn and bug bites. Getting lost in, say, Glacier National Park is a very different thing — indeed, the search is on again this week for a missing hiker, with little prospect of finding him alive, and this seems like a sad summer ritual here.

At the same time, I feel like you have to be comfortable with getting a little lost to really get into birding. At least the way I bird. I often don’t know where I’m headed next. Getting off the beaten path, where it’s safe and legal to do so, is key. The walk in and the walk out often feel very different, if only because my attention is focused differently. Sometimes I go in circles, and that’s ok. There is a fine line between being lost and discovering, as there is between fear and awe. I’d like to think that were I in Long Weekend, aside from not arousing Nature’s wrath in the first place, I would have kept my head a bit longer than the protagonists. If I were lost for real, I might well die, but I’d try not to panic.

What’s the most lost you’ve ever been while birding?

Dugong photo via

Written by Carrie
Carrie Laben, after years of writing and birding in New York, moved to Montana to pursue her two great passions more effectively. She recently graduated with an MFA in Creative Nonfiction from the University of Montana in Missoula. When she is not cranking out essays and speculative fiction stories, or wandering around on mountains failing to see the birds she is looking for, she is likely to be drinking one of the many fine local microbrews or attending a potluck with something from the local farmer’s market in hand. On Mondays from 3 to 3:30 Mountain Time you can find her answering questions about birds on live chat at