Peter Observes the Wildlife
Jan 20, 2016
They Have Deer Here Too…
…and yes, they are just as stupid as their Northeastern kin. I was preparing breakfast one morning, just after dawn, when a deer quietly slipped into my campsite. As everyone in Old Forge knows, deer are the enemy and their presence excites only bumbling tourists from the city, like my parents. I therefore tried and, to my embarrassment, failed not to be impressed by this interloper. It wandered away and I chalked up my awe to the bizarreness bred by solitude.
Later that night, as I lay in bed falling asleep, I heard the clip-clopping of hooves and the munching of earth. The deer had returned. I had to take action, because the chomping noise simply would not do if I were to get some sleep. “Boo” I declared half-heartedly. It did not even stop to look at me. I leaned out of my tent and tossed a stick. The deer lifted its legs, but continued to eat. Reluctantly I got out of the tent and started towards the enemy. It still would not move. I made bear noises. I menacingly raised my arms. Nothing. What did this deer want from me? Where was its natural fear of humans? Would I have to punch its deer-nose? What – was I not frightening enough? After a long combination of curses and thrown sticks the deer meandered away, more bemused than scared. I returned to my tent, triumphant and tired.
Ten minutes later: the clip-clopping of hooves and the munching of earth. I turned on my light and read, waiting for the stupid, stupid deer to finish its dinner.
Bears are elevated to an almost mythical level on National Park websites. You cannot outrun them. You cannot outclimb them. You cannot outswim them. You cannot escape. If you see a bear, you are instructed to back away slowly and to not to draw attention to yourself. If that doesn’t work and the bear sees you, you are instructed to speak to it, to stand your ground and show that you are not prey. If that doesn’t work and the bear is aggressive, you are instructed to fight back! Hit it with a stick! Punch it in the face! If that doesn’t work, well, the website didn’t provide further advice.
I saw my first bear on the third day. After clambering up a stream bed I emerged in a small valley of tall yellowed grass. And there was the bear, racing by me like an express train. I didn’t have time to remember any of the useful tips that I had learned. The bear, roughly the size and shape of a huge dog, kept running and never looked back. The bears of the Olympics are black bears thankfully, man-killing grizzlies are not to be found.
As I was hiking later in the day the bushes next to me rustled. A bear sprinted out, startled. I startled the bear! You never startle a bear! The beast settled onto a rock outcrop thirty feet away and, horror of horror, looked me in the face. But oh, it gets worse! The bear began to make noises, a sound that combined the wheeze of an asthmatic dog and the pant of a tired horse. I too began making noises, noises in the form of ridiculously polite pleading. “Please Mr. Bear, I really am just trying to hike” was one of the pathetic postulations that escaped from my mouth. It was long after the apparently congested animal meandered away that I regained me bravado, raging against bears and using some words that are decidedly banned in Outpost.
The bear had run straight in the direction of where I intended to camp for the next two nights. Knowing this, I taped an extra knife onto a stick. The spear was more of a safety blanket than an actual method of self-defense, but it provided necessary comfort. I spent the next few days exploring the region and during the exploration I reverted to childhood, poking and prodding every single piece of bear feces I came across. How fresh was the poop? If the flies still buzzed then I would reverse my course and wander elsewhere.