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One Minute Allegheny Trail Story

30 September 2013 5:37 pm0 commentsViews: 124

12 September 2013 12:21 PM
Mongahnela National Forest, WV

I stopped on the trail and listened as a military jet roared by overhead. In the past thirteen minutes, I had already heard nine such jets fly over. So looking up, I tried in vain to make out the tenth jet through the clouds.

Having just left my final resupply point on the Allegheny Trail and heading towards an area with uncertain water sources, my pack weighed in at its trip maximum – 38 pounds, 12 of which were food and 10 of which were water. Between the pack weight, the roar of a jet reverberating in my ear, and my neck craned upwards looking for planes, I was distracted.

Other than the jets far overhead, the hours since leaving town had been eerily quiet. I had observed only a single creature – a spike buck who offered a series of 12 snorts as he struggled to pinpoint my location from across the hollow. The wind was mostly calm. The stream I crossed moved at an imperceptibly slow pace, almost if it tried to disguise the fact that it flowed at all.

A dense understory growth of rhododendron thickets surrounded the trail where the sound of the tenth jet had brought me to a stop. I had just come around a turn before stopping and from here the trail continued straight ahead for 30 feet before twisting sharply to the left, where I could see roughly 25 more feet of the trail before the dark green rhododendron leaves fully obscured it from sight.

In an instant the forest’s stillness was shattered. Even though time seemed to enter slow motion, my brain raced to interpret and still felt like it was grasping for something just out of reach.

As my mind caught the realization something was approaching fast, I saw my first glimpse of a deer flying towards me down the trail. The young doe was approximately the same size as the spike buck I’d seen minutes before but something was clearly terribly wrong in her world at present.

Her legs were fully extended out in the front and in the back in a diving full-tilt sprint. When her hooves got to the ground, she was digging and pushing with absolutely everything she had. Her effort had her neck real low to the ground, eyes bulging from her face in a panic-stricken, full-alarm, desperation for survival.

Awestruck, I called out “OH! … DEER!” as my mind raced to catch up to reality.

My thoughts screamed, ‘Why are you running towards me??’

I was seriously baffled. ‘Shouldn’t she be running away from me if I frightened it? That’s what usually happens when you jump a deer… Why is it running straight at me?’

The deer was headed my direction on the trail but really she was headed straight down the trail from where the path had entered sight towards the trail’s sharp bend, which that lay only 30 feet from me. As she reached this point, in only an instant, I think she sort of saw me and opted to keep as far away as possible. Still digging and pulling for everything she had, rather than bank sharp to the right towards me, she just skidded a little and tilted off to the left onto a deer path or simply through a minor clearing of the rhododendrons.

Coming right up behind her came the explanation for it all.

In her slightest instant of hesitation at the bend, her pursuer had closed the gap on her to a matter of 8 or 9 feet.

The coyote on her trail had its ears perked up and was dialed in with laser precision on the deer. He had no panic in his face.

The coyote was lean and grey with white down his chest and underbody. He was 75-50% of the deer’s size but due to the different body shapes, it was hard to tell exactly. His movements seemed effortless even in the intensity of pursuit.

His demeanor was that of pure predatory focus. Nothing else in the forest existed. His only concern was about killing that deer and eating it.

When the deer had skidded and suddenly crashed into the woods, the coyote saw me and immediately eased to a stop. The chase was off. He turned and loped off the trail like you would expect a dog to lope across a yard, only slightly faster.

The coyote moved through woods to the top of the hill about 50 yards away and stopped. Crouching to peer better through the rhododendron cover, I saw the coyote atop the hill look around and at me surveying the scene for danger.

To this brief pause, I answered in my artificially-deepened, stern, animal-commanding voice, “Hey….Hey….Hey.”

I saw him dart out of sight down the back side of the hill and was left with the sound of my heart beat and silence in the forest.

END

“We see that everything in Nature called destruction must be creation, –a change from beauty to beauty.” – John Muir, My First Summer in the Sierra, August 21, 1869

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