Friday, September 30, 2011

Bathing and Climbing

Here's where I've been bathing. The 'waterfall' changes flow depending on the rainfall of the previous few days. It better rain again soon or there's not going to be a shower tomorrow.


I've heard that learning happens in plateaus - we have long periods where we feel like we're not getting any better at a certain thing, but if we keep at it, we'll experience a sudden jump in understanding. Presumably this is the result of all the time taken in the previous plateau to gather experience, or maybe it's that we have been learning slowly, but just haven't noticed the incremental change.

Yesterday I had a sudden leap of understanding with deer trails.

I follow deer trails quite often, but all of a sudden I'm finding them everywhere - in places I've walked past dozens of times. On my last three bushwhacks, there has been zero wading through Salal, breaking through thorny vines or falling through rotten logs. Instead, I'm walking where deer walk. I still have to crouch and jump and push aside the undergrowth, but there is always a sure step for my feet.

This had led to a sudden leap in understanding how deer live. I stoop through the soft mossy hollows under big trees they use for shelter, pause at the cleared-out spots that give a great view of their surroundings, note the side-trails where they dip down to drink from a stream.

It seems that most ravines have two deer trails - one along the top of the ravine, and one cross-slope trail about halfway down. I would imagine the top one is the most used, and the halfway one is more sheltered from the weather, and a good hidden backup to run along if you spot a predator up above.

All the times I've walked along these streambeds I've looked for signs of deer and never found them. Now I realize they've been up above me the whole time, and probably watching me sometimes. (Most of the cross-slope deer trails give an excellent view down to the streams whenever possible.) This makes sense - since every animal needs to drink from the streams, it would be stupid to walk along them.

I also learned that deer can climb just like mountain goats. Seriously! It's ridiculous.

I followed a trail upslope from a river. It was steep, but doable. Then it turned into a cliff. I was pressed right against the earth, pulling myself up with roots and fern bases and salal steams. The dog and I took a lot of breaks, breathing heavily, sometimes pressed up next to each other against the base of a tiny cedar, figuring out how to manage the next route.

To imagine a deer climbing or descending this route blows my mind. They must run straight up or down at some points, because there's no way you could do it without some momentum, or opposable thumbs to grab things, or a man-friend to push you up by the bum (if you're a dog).

Much to learn!

At the top of the deer trail, looking almost straight back down to the river.


  1. Loved this post, Jay. Very interesting observations about the deer trails, especially since I've been watching my own backyard deer for the past few years - but in such a remote way compared to what you do!