It is a beautiful morning to be hiking off the trail. Today much like the one last week when I put on my ankle high boots and, as if driving, I put them in “4-wheel drive” and went off the trail. For me most of my real discoveries take place when hiking off-trail following the paths and animal highways looking for the action that is taking place in the habitat that I am hiking through. If you are like me, the more adventure in my outings the better I like them. So I escaped from the green trails map and started following the deer paths through the woods. Somehow when I get off-trail my mind changes gears and I start applying my senses of discovery to my surroundings much more naturally. I more purposely look to see. I am subconsciously asking the questions of investigation into what I am viewing; the “who, what, when, where, why & how” questions. Much like Sherlock Holmes or his predecessor and woodsman, Rupert Walker might say… “Read the story that is laid out before you by seeing the evidence that is left for your inquiring eyes”. I love these adventures and this one was no disappointment. In the area I was hiking there are semi wild mules, really range mules, whose owners put bells around their necks with thick harnesses. The clanging announces their presence. The mules will take down a dog instantly if it gets close enough, I am told.
As I was generally following a trail it broadened into an open area much like a funnel and as I was entering the narrow neck of the funnel I spied black bear scat and stopped to investigate it. The scat was not recent but also not well dried out either. As I proceeded, now looking for evidence of the omnivore’s earlier presence, the trail opened up into a broader area amongst a grove of decaying deciduous trees, leaves covering the ground an inch or more thick. Within a short distance I discovered both a bone and a small scrap of hair-covered hide some distance apart amongst the fall leaves. I carry small plastic “evidence” bags and I put the hide into one for future identification and study. Upon further searching the site I found bones scattered, each quite separate from the other, and all being leg bones, no body parts were to be found. I took pictures of each of my finds and noted in my field manual locations of the finds, posture, and any other details that appeared relevant. Sometimes I need to look again and again to see what is obvious but not clear to my eyes. I eventually concluded that I had found all that I could see for the time being and moved on down the trail.
On my return an hour or so later, I decided to spend a little more effort on the site. All of the activity, including the scattered bones, were within a 200’ circle from the bear scat. Now, looking at the site from a totally different direction and therefore a different perspective, I saw things that were not apparent on my prior investigation. I also noted that there were no paw prints or hoof prints. I found no stains, no messed up areas where a scuffle might have taken place, and no discovery of the balance of the body parts or hide. But, lying within the 200’ circle of evidence, unnoticed at my prior “looking”, was a harness and bell.
There was much to ponder from this day’s hike. It is oft the case that the action is beyond the borders of the man made trails.
I hope to see you along one of the paths to adventure.
With Hiking Stick in Hand,
PS. My follow up Blog Post entitled Uncovering Mystery engages where we left off here. It covers the full analysis of the evidence.