Observing and learning from nature

Submitted photo Recently, while hiking in Canaan Valley, Mark Chapin and his group were joined by a curious yearling doe.

The forests and wilderness areas, while being home to wildlife, also offer many opportunities to experience the unique and unexpected in nature.

Recently while leading an Edible Plants Hike at Canaan Valley State Park our group was joined by a curious yearling doe who seemed genuinely interested in my tips on how to identify different trees. My friend, Victor George, of Davis, captured a great picture that day and seeing it reminded me of a few of the other encounters I’ve had whenever I took the time to get outside and witness nature firsthand.

Not every outdoor experience has to be as exciting as a grizzly bear attack for us appreciate Mother Nature’s power and to get a better understanding of real life as it happens “out there.”

One autumn day as I sat in my tree stand camouflaged head to toe I heard the rush of wings above my head and I held my breath as a large red-tailed hawk suddenly landed on a dead branch that was close enough to touch. The hawk seemed to not notice me, her senses being entirely focused on a small groundhog feeding near the tree line. Like any good hunter she appeared to be weighing her chances for success before “taking a shot.” I watched as she shifted her grip on the limb, craning her neck for a better look, then having made her decision the beautiful raptor took to the air presumably in search of something smaller to eat.

Another time as I waited in my favorite spot for whitetails to show around dusk I was surprised to see a red fox appear and then a scruffy looking raccoon. The raccoon was trying to get home to a den in an old maple tree but whichever way he moved the fox would react like a cutting horse working a calf. This went on a few minutes before the raccoon started tacking slightly away from the tree, each move drawing the frustrated hunter out of position. Soon that wily “washing-bear” had expertly outmaneuvered the fox and scampered up the tree. Nature sometimes shows a humorous side as well. I watched as a Junco was stealing long strips of inner bark of a tulip poplar from a nearby squirrel’s nest. On one return flight to her own unfinished nest, trailing a very long strip of bark, another bird swooped in and snatched the strip at the other end and tried to fly away. Neither bird would let go as the aerial tug of war had them both flying in a circle until the bark snapped.

Even my dog, Mr. Guinness, has witnessed the unexpected in nature. Nearing a meadow in the back country my wheaten terrier spotted a doe and two fawns at the far tree line and he raced over for a better look. Of course the deer instantly bounded away leaving Mr. Guinness standing there. He’s old and wise enough to know he can’t catch a deer but for some reason unknown to me he just waited there as if expecting something to happen … and it did.

A moment later a fawn came charging back out of the woods and stopped six feet away from my four-legged friend. My first thought was that Mr Guinness was about to get pummeled. But he must have thought he’d found a new friend and maybe that fawn did too because they both stood there just eying one another; an unbelievable sight. It wasn’t until my dog started wagging his tail that the fawn must have seen it as a whitetail danger sign and raced back into the woods.

Some of my encounters have had nothing to do with wildlife but still made an impact on me. One afternoon while in a tree stand overlooking a shaded hollow I heard a faint moaning noise off to my right. The noise grew louder and turning my head I saw that an 80-foot tulip poplar near my stand was leaning and picking up speed and then suddenly crashing into the hollow with the force of a locomotive falling from the sky. The earth shook and the tree stand rattled… and so did I!

Often what we see is totally unexpected but that’s how it is when you’re Wandering Wild. Learn more about wilderness activities at mountaineerwilderness.com. If you have a short outdoor story you want to share email mark@mountaineerwilderness.com.