Let’s talk about lumberjacks. Even with the advent of modern technology, logging is one of the most dangerous professions out there. In 2008, the rate of on-the-job deaths was at about 108 per 100,000 workers, 30 times higher than any other industry overall. The risks are plenty: you’re exposed to the elements, working with sharp things that can slice you and heavy things that can crush you, often far from help. But nowadays things are much easier than they used to be. Less than a 100 years ago, the difficulty of the industry required not only that you adopt a profession, but a way of life.
Traditional lumberjacks were the epitome of manliness. They brought down massive trees using only saws, axes, and their own muscle, enduring cold and hardship that would send the rest of us running away screaming. Paid little, lumberjacks lived in primitive conditions. They rarely washed their clothes, and generally did every stereotypical thing that manly men are supposed to do: roughhouse, try to out-eat each other, tell tall tails, etc. Their heroes were people like Jigger Johnson, a man who kicked knots of frozen trees with his bare feet, drank so much he hallucinated, and bit off a man’s ear when he was 12 years old.
In short, lumberjacks were a stalwart bunch. They lived with danger every day, and so were fearless (and fearsome) men.
So what scared the lumberjacks?
The Hidebehind is a monster born from a simple but universal concept. You know how sometimes you’re walking alone and then you worry you’re not actually alone? When.you feel like something’s watching you, but when you whip around to check, nothing seems to be there?
The lumberjacks felt that in the woods. They were capable men who knew the forests well, and so when the trees stood more still and more quiet than usual, they would, too. At a whisper of underbrush any man would whip around, breath in his throat, hands tight on his axe, but he was always unable to locate his pursuer. Occasionally someone would go missing. These men were normally never seen again. If they were, it was when someone stumbled upon their bodies some time later, mouths wide, intestines strewn across the forest floor.
“Hidebehind” is a simple name to describe a primordial fear: a man-hunter that cannot be seen until it’s too late; a clever, quick monster that tucks itself behind trees, rocks, or whatever else is available as it closes the distance between itself and its prey. Word had it that the creature could make itself thin enough to hide behind trees only 10 inches across. Its appearance (which must have been either conjecture or a tale passed down from a rare survivor) was said to be something like a bear on hind legs, 6 feet tall, covered in black fur, with heavy claws and no discernible face.
The Hidebehind dined chiefly on human intestine, and was picky about the quality of what it ate. After scaring its victim half to death by stalking him through the forest, it would fall on him with a “demoniacal laugh,” either dragging him off to its lair or clawing open his torso then and there to get at the goodies within. One story had it that it would then run the intestines under its nose to smell them before it ate. If it detected any trace of alcohol inside, it would throws the viscera back in the victim’s face and bound away with a laugh.
The details about the exact intensity of the Hidebehind’s aversion to alcohol are a bit hazy. Some stories had it that no matter how much you drank, the Hidebehind would slice you open to get a sniff (as described above). Others said that as little as one beer (a bottle of Uno, according to the source) would keep a man safe “even in thickly infested country.” It seems that many lumberjacks shrugged and drank like fishes just in case. The monster’s odd Achilles’ heel makes you wonder if the whole thing wasn’t invented just to pressure younger lumberjacks to drink.
Regardless, tales of the Hidebehind had an impact. One story tells of a lumberjack travelling alone through the winter woods. The man became nervous when a branch cracked behind him and he could find no natural explanation for the sound. Then he came across the remains of a fellow lumberjack, intestines staining the snow. Instead of being more frightened–or horrified–the man relaxed with relief. He’d heard that the Hidebehind could go for 7 years without eating, and since it had just dined on someone else, he himself was probably safe.
How powerless were these manly men that they only thing they could do in the face of the Hidebehind’s horror was to be grateful that its latest victim wasn’t them?
The traditional lumberjack has faded into history, but the Hidebehind has yet to go out of style. Versions of the monster have appeared in a number of different mediums, including books, games, television, and, most recently, on the Harry Potter themed news site Pottermore. Plaid flannel shirts may come and go, but much like a little black dress or darkwash jeans, the Hidebehind is truly timeless.
What is the smallest diameter tree you can hide behind? Hawk your skills in the comments below.