Scenes and stories about quicksand,
semi-lost in the mists of time.

When you get to be as old as the good Doctor, your life seems to consist mainly of memories. Here's some stuff I recall seeing or reading as a child. I'd love to hear from any of you sleuths out there who might be able to confirm any of these.

Quicksand...Nature's Death Trap
Reader's Digest, Circa 1965-1967

I vividly remember reading this article in the Reader's Digest, back in the 60's. I would place it in the years 1965, 1966 or 1967. The article started with a "hook" recounting a real-life incident involving two backpackers. I can't recall the exact locale, but in the back of my mind I seem to think it took place in a State or National park in Florida. Anyway, even though the writer didn't use a particularly melodramatic style, the event itself was pretty gut-wrenching, especially to a 10 or 11-year-old. Seems the fellow in the lead blunders into a pit of deep quicksand, stops, and turns to warn his friend to stay back. His friend dashes off to get a stick or log to affect a rescue. Meanwhile, the poor trapped fellow continues to sink, all the while struggling to get his backpack off, which he apparently is unable to do in time. Our rescuer returns with a branch, but by this time the mired man is wallowing up to his neck and is unable to get a good grip on it, the weight of his backpack sending him to his doom. The writer describes in terse but gruesome detail the frantic attempts of the one to rescue the other. In the end, the muck wins, and the description of the dead man's hat floating on the surface of the mire is worthy of any Tarzan flick. The writer describes the surviver as sitting down by the edge of the pit, burying his face in his hands and crying for his lost friend.

As if that scene weren't morbidly spectacular enough, the writer then goes on to describe another incident taken from the pages of history. Apparently during the middle ages, several dozen mounted and heavily armored knights in a fighting group went for a terminal mud bath in some particularly nasty ocean-side quicksand, horses and all. I can't for the life of me remember when or where the writer describes the incident as taking place, but recent investigations on the net lead me to believe it could possibly have been at Mt. Saint Michel on the Normandy coast of France (possibly during the Norman invasion of Britain?). If you do a search-engine look for "Mt. Saint Michel" you'll find several good tourist web sites describing the place. Apparently it's a very popular tourist attraction, the highlight of which is a monastery or abby capping a small semi-detached island standing about a kilometer or so from the shoreline. From what I understand, back in the middle ages there was no permanent causeway leading out to the monastery, so to make the trip you had to wait for low tide, when there was a natural land bridge out to the island. Unfortunately, the safe path out there was narrow, constantly changing, and surrounded by acres upon acres of quicksand, caused by tidal action on the beach sand and mud flats. To make matters worse, due to the changeable nature of the oceanfront in that area, you could never tell exactly where the mire was and where it wasn't! Anyway, from what I remember reading about armored knights, those poor lads were weighed down with anywhere from 60 to 120 pounds of metal in their suits, and the average knight in those days was only about 5'4" and maybe 120 to 140 pounds in weight. Well, believe you me that if you hit the deep muck with that much extra weight in iron, you're pretty much going to go down like the proverbial stone! It must have been truly hideous, the sight of dozens of men and horses (remember, even the horses often had armor!) struggling in the clutches of the gurgling, quaking mire, and vanishing.

This article then goes on to give safety tips about quicksand (such as trying to float on your back to keep from sinking further), and this is probably where I first learned that being trapped in deep mire was not necessarily fatal. Of course, I'm learning now from all the other folks' web sites that quicksand is supposed to usually not be that dangerous, and I believe these folks because they've had a lot more experience with it than I have; nonetheless, if these stories are the least bit accurate, they show that quicksand is nothing to be trifled with, and that you'd better not go mucking about in the swamps with a backpack you can't get out of quickly!

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