Listening To Your Hike

Sometimes the little guy wins. Champions come in all sizes and shapes and there is so much about life that we can learn if we approach our hike as adventures, purposely looking for the evidence of “effect” to “cause”. We often need to engage our minds beyond just observing the beauty of our surroundings and getting some exercise.

I was on a trail early one morning last week. I was traveling an adjunct trail, not one traveled by hunters, for it was bow season. Somehow, at times, it seems that the inhabitants of the habitat perceive our intent. It is so curious how the prey can comprehend in some fashion the presence and intent of the predator. The weather was overcast and the morning light was gray as I passed without disturbance 5 mule deer over a quarter mile stretch all bedded down and watching but not running. One of which was a beautiful 2-point buck.

As I hiked, one of the sentries of the woods, a red squirrel was chattering loudly and anxiously down in a hollow. A squirrel in a tree barking at you is telling everyone of your coming along. A squirrel in anxious activity not focusing on you is likely announcing the presence of something else of concern. In this case the little feller was scampering back and forth across a log and virtually screaming while watching in the direction of an apparent stump. The “effect” was anxious activity, but not so anxious that escape was perceived as immediately necessary. The cause was the point of interest. I understood the sign, a signal of great concern. I settled in to observe and hopefully perceive his source of angst. As I watched in the direction of his focus and as my eyes adjusted to the dim light I finally saw movement, ever so slight. I kept focused and still. I was, as Rupert would say, present but not manifest. Eventually I saw, not 10 feet from our furry sentry, a head moving ever so slowly in what appeared to be almost a circle. I knew instantly that there was an owl present. After careful and quiet observation I was able to get a picture of a great horned owl sitting on a stump not ten feet from the squirrel. Obviously from the squirrels perspective Mr. Owl was too close to take flight and get him but to dangerous to himself and his fellow critters to allow it to stay put without a strong discussion.

(Great Horned Owl, the squirrel was on the log at bottom of the circle.)

Great Horned Owl

The “effect” was an anxious squirrel.

The “signs” (1) an unusually anxious squirrel & (2) movement of a unique “kind.”

The “tools” were (1) awareness of the unusual character of the activity, (2) silence, (3) being present without being observed, and (4) patience that my observation was relevant and not incidental.

The “cause” was a great horned owl that liked to eat squirrels.

The “activity” was (1) to notify the forest creatures that danger lurked, and (2) to irritate the predator hoping he would move on and leave them alone.

The “hero” was a spry squirrel risking his hide to notify his compatriots.

The “results” were (1) our sentry notified me of the presence of a crafty and quiet predator that was closing out his day of hunting. (Great horned owls hunt mostly in the shadow hours before dark and just after dawn.) (2) The owl got fed up with all the publicity and moved on. I watched as his six-foot wingspan silently glided through the trees likely to find roost for the day.

As we study the signs and sounds of the woods there is often a story to enter into and a tale to tell if we are present but not manifest.

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