Bear and Deer

Dawn and I spent about 5 months exploring the Olympic National Park in the state of Washington. I must say that this was the absolute highlight of my trip. I only wish I had taken a packhorse so I could have carried enough food to stay in the wilderness for longer stretches.

The first trek into the Park was along the Elwah River. The river was roaring and I could hear the boulders rolling as the strong current pushed them along - nature's own rock tumbler. A narrow path meandered along the river through immense evergreen trees that were 200 - 300 feet tall and 6 - 12 feet in diameter. Mosses and ferns, epiphytes, hung from the branches and trunks. It was a storybook jungle of giant proportions. I was glad to be in this beautiful wilderness...alone. All the while I kept looking for a cougar. How I would have loved to have seen one. Although I never did while I was in the rain forest, I couldn't help but think that perhaps one had been watching me.

After a day of travel along Elwah River we arrived at a large pasture area where we camped for the night. I turned Dawn loose to graze. She had a pair of small brass bells around her neck so I could hear where she was. As I scanned the area I noticed a black bear. I was amazed to have spotted him before he noticed me. I was thrilled. I got as close as I could without detection, then, the bear caught my scent. He raised his nose high and meandered forward sniffing the air. He still did not see me. When he got close, I revealed myself to him. He stood up on his hind legs and looked at me, then turned and galloped up a slope into the forest. I was sad to see him go; that my presence would upset him so. It's a shame humans are regarded by wild creatures as such a threat to them. I turned and went back to set up my camp. Although I love water, the river was very loud, and I was uncomfortable with not being able to hear anything else. Yet I felt the need to sleep close to its edge. An hour had passed and I went for a walk to check on Dawn before dusk. She was grazing by the forest's edge...and so was the bear! I immediately sat down and marveled at the site. Here were two completely unrelated beings, strangers, grazing not more than 50 feet from each other The bear seemed to accept my presence now, and I did not move for fear of disrupting his peace. The three of us were positioned so as to form the points of a triangle. The bear and Dawn casually ate the grass and ignored me, each other, and all else - they were masters of Zen. I just watched in sheer admiration and appreciation. How lucky I was, I thought...and how I wish I had not run out of film! After a while a third grazer appeared - a deer. Our triangle became a square in the dreamy twilight glow of the evening. Before darkness robbed my vision, I reluctantly pulled myself away and went to the tent. With ears full of raging river, I found sleep.

Moment of visual detection.

The next morning I emerged from the tent looking and listening for Dawn. Nothing. I began to walk. I walked the entire length of the 20 acre pasture, every so often stopping to listen, and still no Dawn. I began to feel a little anxious. Then I heard the faint chimes of her bells. With a sigh of relief, I followed the sound. There she was, in the forest...surrounded by a small herd of deer. A picture as surreal as the triangle of the last evening. For a moment, she looked for all the world like a deer herself, like she was one of them and belonged with them. She held her head high with ears forward, just like the deer around her, listening and watching as I approached. I called to her and the deer disappeared. She almost ran with them, but hesitated, and I caught her. Dawn has always loved being with another horse, she is truly a herd animal, and now I felt sorrow that she had none of her kind to keep her company. The deer were the closest to her now, and they had fled. Once again, I was her only companion, and she mine. I think Dawn loved me and trusted me, but always held the instinct to be with her own kind. I thought about setting her free among the wild horses when our journey was over, but so many are rounded up each year by the BLM and auctioned off...her fate would have been uncertain.