100 Days of National Parks: Day 30 – Doe, a Deer; Olympic National Park

Wildlife encounters when you’re in the backcountry can be some of the most exciting, and unexpected times that you can spend in the wilderness. When I’m hiking or backpacking, I’m often lost in my own thoughts, and invariably get surprised when I come across another life along the trail, be it person or creature. Most of the time these moments are fleeting, an elk bounding up fern-covered incline above me, or a marmot scurrying behind a rock as I walk past. Sometimes these moments are terrifying, like a bear encounter in the mountains, or lifting my pack to find a scorpion the size of my hand. Rarely, though, I get the chance to really observe the animal I come across, to connect with it for more than those few brief seconds it takes for it to run away.

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Doe, A Deer

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Wildlife encounters when you’re in the backcountry can be some of the most exciting, and unexpected times that you can spend in the wilderness.  When I’m hiking or backpacking, I’m often lost in my own thoughts, and invariably get surprised when I come across another life along the trail, be it person or creature.  Most of the time these moments are fleeting, an elk bounding up fern-covered incline above me, or a marmot scurrying behind a rock as I walk past.  Sometimes these moments are terrifying, like a bear encounter in the mountains, or lifting my pack to find a scorpion the size of my hand.  Rarely, though, I get the chance to really observe the animal I come across, to connect with it for more than those few brief seconds it takes for it to run away.

In the summer of 2015, I was in the middle of recovering from my broken leg and wanted to get out and test it on a strenuous 18-mile round trip hike up to the Royal Lakes Basin in Olympic National Park.  The trail pretty quiet, and there weren’t a lot of other hikers out, surprisingly, though it was probably far enough out of the way to dissuade most people, and I found myself alone for the majority of the hike.

Halfway up, I rounded a bend and noticed this lovely deer feeding on the dense undergrowth lining the trail, and immediately stopped in my tracks.  She noticed me, of course, but didn’t spook immediately, as I would’ve expected her to do.  Instead, she watched me for a time, and then returned to eating.

I swapped lenses and crept closer, pausing every time she stopped eating, only moving when she was engrossed in the lush vegetation surrounding her.  Every step I took brought me that much closer to her, and eventually I was taking pictures within arm’s length of her, keeping ever so still so as not to spook her.  It seemed like an eternity that we stood there next to each other, connecting without communication, her gaining trust with each passing moment that I didn’t move or take action against her.  In reality it probably lasted for less than five minutes, but it felt like so much longer.

I’ve had a few similar experiences in other hikes, but every time I have a wildlife encounter like this, it feels me with a profound appreciation not only for other life and nature as a whole, but for the connection we can have, and the understanding we can gain into an animal’s life and perspective, just by watching them.  I will always remember this experience, and will continue looking for others, as there is so much we can learn about ourselves and the world around us just by appreciating and connecting with the animals that share the world with us.

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