March 24, 2002

Fitting the Pieces Together

It took me a while to piece together the patterns that I was seeing, but when I finally did it became one of the more fascinating parts of my trip.

The first morning I had seen a young buck splashing out of the water at the mouth of the cove. It had seemed odd that he was in the water at such a cold time, but one thing that I've learned over the years is that many animals are not near as sensitive to the cold as I am. I've watched deer wading in the water and feeding on plants under the water several times, so I just passed it off without much more thought.

Then later in the trip I saw 4 does splashing out of the water at about the same place. Later that same day I saw a group of 6 deer come out of the water. Was there a particularly delicatable plant there? Were the deer all traveling through the same area? Or was something else going on?

It was until the morning of my last day, when I watched the same 6 does leave the water from the other side of the cove that I started understanding what was going on. I watched those deer romp through the ferns near my tent, and after they passed through I walked down to where they had come out of the water. What I saw started to make a little more sense.

Deer very frequently will travel on the same paths. Usually there is something about the contours of the land that will favor a particular route. After they travel the same path often enough, the vegetation gets worn down and the trail they make is called a runway. Sometimes these same runways will be used year after year by generations of deer in the same area. When that happens the trail actually becomes sunken into the ground.

It becomes fairly easy during most of the year to figure out where deer move by looking at these runways. I frequently make use of these runways when I'm photographing or studying deer. If you can silently watch an active runway during the periods when deer are moving you substantially increase your chance of seeing deer.

What I was when I walked down to the point where the deer had left the water really surpriced me. These deer had a runway that actually went in the water. They had a trail that went right through the lake. Much of the cove was very deep, but some where along the line these deer had discovered that the water at the mouth of the cove was actually fairly shallow. By wading in a water a few feet deep they were able to avoid traveling all the way around the outside shore of the cove. Their wading saved them a half a mile of walking.

It would have been interesting to see how the first deer found that trail, and then how it was able to get other deer to follow once it knew of the short cut. Quite possibly that first deer might have been a doe and the next deer to cross was her fawn the next year. It's entirely possible that all these deer crossing this water are related to each other and learned about the runway directly from their mother.

I find myself learning and observing new things all the time. But in an odd way it is comforting to know that there are so many little mysteries out there that I'll never know the answers to.

It really was a fantastic trip. There were days on end that I never saw another human being. And those days were full of awe inspiring sights, beautiful scenic vistas, interesting animals and new discoveried. My body was tired at the end of the days, but my mind and soul was much stronger.

How very lucky we are that there are places and experiences out there let us come away with a better appreciation of life.


May 23, 2002