I am writing on Thanksgiving, so it is perhaps fitting to mention some of the critters i saw on this trip (<- that’s the link to Pictures!). In addition to the normal scattering of squirrels, i saw many deer. Usually i would hear them first – dashing away, or approaching at a run. Generally they were spread out in groups of three. I don’t know a ton about the developmental phases of the deer life-cycle, but i did not see any of the large antler displays that some folks are so crazy about putting on their walls. I think these were mostly young critters. Not all of the deer ran however. Infrequently, i would glance left or right and there would be a deer, less than 10 feet away, standing in the denuded forest just looking back at me. I would talk to them in mellow tones, like i do with dogs, and they would watch me pass then go about their business.
One group stood out more than any other. I just completed a steep ascent over slightly rockier, completely leaf covered terrain – meaning the ground had 95% of my focus. When i looked up, there was a deer standing on the trail maybe 6 feet ahead of me. I slowly and calmly came to a complete stop and we just stood there looking at each other. As i cautiously glanced around, i noted this deer’s two pals also within 15 feet, both off the trail but close by and observant. I was enjoying this moment, but i knew that the motions i would need to make to get to my camera would break the spell – so we waited. I took a small step forward and the deer casually left the trail and joined its pals.
One thing always worries me about hiking at this time of year. The hunters are out. While they know, or should know, that they cannot hunt on AT land, the trail’s right-of-way is often very narrow. I know that many “hunters” have taken to setting up with good views of the power line right-of-way and wait for the deer to pop out into the broad open channels for their shot. I worry that my presence on protected land might startle the deer and make them run. A short run in any direction will lead them out of the protected area, and often directly into the open land under the power lines. I have not figured out a solution yet. It has not made me stop hiking during hunting season either. But it is something i think about and wonder how to fix.
I passed the 20 year mark on not eating animals this fall. While i can remember eating meat as a youth, and i can remember not thinking at all about where my food came from, i cannot remember a time after i became aware that eating meat was eating other creatures that i did not think about stuff like this. As both a distance hiker and a dog lover, i can sympathize with the plight of critters like deer. It is not at all easy to find places in the lower 48 to go on really long walks without having to cross roads or go through towns. It is even harder to find places where it is “OK” to go on a really long walk with your dog also roaming free instead of tethered for the comfort of others. I am not a “turn back the clock – technology and progress sucks” kinda guy. But i can see how the course of our rise to dominance has been fairly difficult for critters like deer, wolves, and say, the buffalo.
I did not make it around to gear today, so i will close with some truths from another side of the coin. I know many hunters. Most of the hunters i actually know are very conscientious. They do not kill without thought. They are grateful for and use what they kill. I know some dudes who exclusively bow hunt and use every part of the animals they kill. Sadly, i think that these types of folks are not the majority. For every respectful hunter i know, i find miles of animal hair on the trail, obviously someone having drug a carcass. I find headless carcasses just off the trail – obvious signs of trophy hunting, and probable indicators of illegal hunting at that. On this last trip, i found a completely intact torso – spine and full ribcage. I don’t know what that was about, but there it was siting in the middle of the AT.
Sorry, i really am not trying to preach at you, or even trying to change your behavior. I am not judging you. I don’t think i am morally superior to you. I am only asking that on this day of thanksgiving – after all the weird mixed messages that, certainly my generation grew up with – doing the silly pageants in our youth and then, sometime, maybe in our pre-teens, maybe later, but sometime, we look around and start to recognize “hey, what about small pox, and stealing these people’s land, and the trail of tears? What the hell is this holiday supposed to be about again?” – i am only asking that you take a minute and think about your food. Think about where it comes from. Think about what kind of life the creature you are eating had before it became your dinner.