If you read “Exploring Pope Lick Park, Part 2”, you might recall that the magnificent exploring trio’s first trip through the Big Beech Woods was cut short due to the fading sunlight. And even though he is the #1 Adventurer, as he likes to call himself, Boy Wonder is not a big fan of the woods at dusk. So we returned on a cool autumn day in mid-afternoon, ready to complete the full 1.69 mile hike with no threat of dark shadowy tree monsters lurking in our way. Boy Wonder’s first mission as we entered the woods was to find a walking stick. He had a freak run-in earlier in the day with his ninja sword and apparently had slightly injured his leg, though he showed no signs of limping at this point. I was eventually successful at convincing him that he’d probably make it without the extra help, after denying his several attempts at picking up small trees to use in place of a more appropriately-sized stick.
Boy Wonder’s first observation: “a wave of dirt,” which, he explained when I asked, was really just where water had etched a curve into the land. Most of the woods were still green, even this late in October, with sprinkles of yellow and an occasional red brushed against a backdrop of brown. There was a crunch with each step we took, and in certain areas the entire ground, including the trail, was draped in the forest’s fallen leaves. Boy Wonder said it was like a sea of leaves and I had to agree. The trail followed along the ridge of the creek and then turned deeper into the woods until one was surrounded by trees. We crossed over a narrow creek by carefully stepping on the sturdy-looking rocks (except for Molly Bassett Hound who just waded right into the chilly water). I noticed how the forest would change after a while, with the large open woods and tall, thin trees replaced by heavier foliage and short, stumpy trees. Towards the top of one ridge, trees sprouted up within inches of one another, each one with a tall, wrangly bamboo-like stalk, topped with a thin canopy of light-green leaves. Sometimes, near the water, we’d see sycamores, other times a random pine tree, but mostly we saw trees we could not yet name.
By the time we reached the last stretch of trail that followed a mostly dried-up waterway, we had just survived a run-in in which Molly Bassett Hound had gone completely instinctual on a couple of passing dogs, and Boy Wonder was beginning to complain that his legs hurt as he informed me that had he known that 1.69 miles in the woods was so long, he might have chosen a different trail. I was growing impatient of telling Boy Wonder, “just a little bit longer” (when in fact I had no sense of when we’d reach the end). It was in this hurried state for the adventure to be over that a surprise twist occurred; nature’s way of slapping me in the face and reminding me to be present, lest I miss out on her glorious show.
There was another hiker approaching just a little ways up the trail and I tried to usher Boy Wonder and Molly Bassett Hound over to the side out of his way. As I did this, I caught movement out of the corner of my eye and heard a loud rustling in the woods above us. I thought at first it was just other hikers further back on the trail, but then, as if materializing from the very trees and brush that a moment ago were completely still and silent, a single deer glided through the air, barely brushing the earth before springing back to flight again. In a brief moment she was mere feet in front of us, and in the next moment, she was gone. There are absolutely no words to describe the majesty of this sight; I’m not even sure I quite understand why it meant so much to me. It is not uncommon to appreciate the beauty and elegance of deer as you watch them eating from a field of grass, or staring cautiously back at you. It is not uncommon to judge their seeming foolishness as they jet out of the woods and into the road and stop at the exact moment they should keep going. It is quite another experience all together to witness the grace of this creature as it moves seamlessly through its natural surroundings. It was this perspective of the deer that I have never before experienced, and it left me with not only a deeper respect for the creature, but a deeper appreciation for the conservation of natural spaces around our city. And so this trip to Pope Lick Park, too, ended with that same sense of awe that one might only experience when exploring in nature.