One of the joys of being in the great outdoors is seeing animal life in the wild. You would think that while hiking the Appalachian Trail (AT), I would see animals at every turn. But when I hike, I tend to make some noise with my trekking poles, my heavy footsteps, and occasional heavy breathing (particularly when climbing up the hills!), so I’m sure that the animals know that I’m approaching. So, I have not snuck up on many animals; but, I have seen my share. And, I have certainly seen lots of signs of wildlife, such as their footprints and scat. It is clear that the animals seem to prefer the easier travel on the well-established AT “highway”, rather than having to bushwhack cross country through the more rugged and overgrown woods.
Before my hike, everyone wanted to know if I was going to carry a weapon to protect myself from the bears. Of the bears so far that I have seen, I really did not need any protection. One bear was at least 100 yards away from my camping spot. Then, two small bear cubs, who must have been playing in the middle of the trail, sensed my approaching footsteps and they climbed a tree next to the trail faster that a lumberjack in a pole climbing competition. I quickly began looking for mother bear. I did not see her, but I assumed that she was close by. Hopefully, she was aware that her cubs were safely 60 feet up in the tree—just as they had been trained. So, rather than wait around for any future developments and drama, I decided to quietly and quickly move on by the treed cubs. When I reached their tree, the mother bear (who was 25 yards off the trail) just moved on down the hill away from the trail, her cubs, and me. If I should happen to have a future unpleasant encounter with a bear, I plan to punch, hit, or stick the bear in its most sensitive body part—the nose!
The most unfriendly animal encounter was with a rattlesnake. He was coiled, rattling, and ready to strike as I approached him in the middle of the trail. The rattlesnake had found a sunny spot in the trail and just was not going to give it up. Rather than have a standoff with the rattler, I walked off the trail to get around him and proceeded on my hike.
I’ve seen more squirrels and chipmunks than any other animals. I’ve seen lots of deer; most bounded away, one froze in the trail 20 feet in front of me, and another displayed an interesting curiosity about humans at one of the shelters.
There have been unexpected creatures as well. While crossing through the Grayson Highlands Park in Virginia, I did see several wild ponies that live there. Also, I came across two “wild” goats. My guess is that they escaped the farm and were living off the land.
The first birds of which I was most aware were the owls. Not because I could see them, but because every night you could hear their distinctive calls echoing through the woods. I’ve seen hawks, falcons, blackbirds, turkey vultures, robins, cardinals, towhees, scarlet tanagers, red-winged blackbirds and lots of other birds. I’ve flushed wild turkeys and grouse into flight.
If you spend some time in the woods, you might be surprised by what you see. You don’t need to be on a long distance hike—there are a number of great places on the Cumberland Plateau to experience nature.
I’m now in the final third of my hike and plan to finish at the end of August, so please be sure to make your donation to the House of Hope, www.ccchouseofhope.com. Thanks for your support.