Close Encounters of the Odocoileus Virginianus Kind
Being an avid hiker, I’ve come across a lot of wildlife, usually from a distance. I grew up in a house right next to a sizable forest, and so had routine meetings with deer and bobcats, raccoons, skunks, and more. The closest I’ve been to a truly wild animal was with an eastern cottontail rabbit that I could almost—but not quite—pat.
Yesterday I went to one of my favorite haunts in Worcester, Broad Meadow Brook. I love to see how this forest changes over the year, how ferns, mosses, and fungi take over dead trees, and how the varying lighting of the seasons changes the entire feeling of the woods.
Now, while there is a lot of bird and insect life at Broad Meadow, and I know there are other animals, I haven’t seen a whole lot of it. It’s an active hiking and observation place, and so critters can be shy. But yesterday, being a holiday, there weren’t very many people out, especially at 11AM when I started my trek through the forest. And I had an experience I’ve never had before.
I’ve seen deer in the forest before. Usually their tail ends, as they go dashing off, aware of my presence long before I am aware of theirs. Yesterday however, as I was walking along the trail past the frog pond at Broad Meadow, I had a surprise right next to me. So close that if I had take two steps off the trail, I could have touched him.
I didn’t get any pictures of him when he was closest to me, because 1) I was so shocked to see a little deer so close, 2) I was looking for mama deer because I didn’t want to get kicked, and 3) I didn’t want to scare him.
He looked right at me many times, and I talked to him a bit, and he just munched on his leaves. He walked around a little to get at some good eating, but never seemed startled or scared. I walked on before he COULD get startled, though I have a feeling that some of the kids coming up behind me on the path might have done a fair job—if they even noticed him in the first place.
Speaking of children…I love kids. I used to want six of them, until I had a son who was like six kids in one. One reason I love kids is that they are full of wonder and, if left to their natural state, seem to have an innate sort of respect towards nature that humans tend to lose as they get older. But as I was leaving the woods yesterday, a mother and her four children passed me, rather loudly—but hey, they are kids. But this loudness seemed to be encouraged by their mother, who was saying, “What’s our mantra?” and the kids yelled in response, “HIKERS COMING THROUGH!” as they passed me (who was on the very edge of the path, not in anyone’s way). You can guarantee they won’t be seeing any wildlife other than earthworms, and they will prevent anyone ELSE from seeing any wildlife as well. I couldn’t figure out the purpose of such, to be honest, obnoxious behavior. I’ve always taken my son hiking with me, since he could walk any distance, and the very first lesson he received was to be as quiet as he possibly could in the woods.
This, however, really feels like a sign of the times. “HIKERS COMING THROUGH!” might as well be the battle cry for all who believe that nature exists for them, that human supremacy is a thing, that everything is there for human consumption and waste and exploitation. And when people trample and invade their surrounds so, of course they aren’t going to have the lovely experiences some of us do. Of course they aren’t going to feel the quiet magic of the forest. And so they aren’t going to care.
How can we teach people to be quiet? How can we teach people that human supremacy is NOT a thing, that we are only killing ourselves with our own stupidity—that any sense of conquering the wilderness is a delusion? It’s a hard thing to teach when so much of humanity willfully does not want to understand it. We seem to champion short-sightedness, and that will lead to our doom.
But yesterday I experienced some magic, and it wasn’t something I’ll forget soon.