Hiking the Deer Path

Deer Tracks, June 18, 2019

I walked due east from the garden along the utility easement to access a 25-acre stand of woods at the point where deer enter.

Deer are a constant presence in the neighborhood, especially during apple season, and I try to live in harmony with them by understanding what they will and won’t eat, and by using fences on the garden.

After dining, deer run across the same open space I walked to the wood line.

Based on the condition of the undergrowth, few humans visit the woods except around the edges. The main pathways are those made by deer and the brush is so thick I’m not sure how they get through. In 25 years of living here, there has been little interest in using the woods and I’ve hiked them less than half a dozen times.

Unnamed Creek, June 18, 2019.

I walked a deer path on the west bank of an unnamed creek up hill to the pond created by a now forgotten farmer. It was sweaty work and good exercise. I’ve studied the woods on maps for years and there was never a sense of being lost despite the claustrophobic feeling the thick undergrowth created.

The county planning and zoning commission requires our development to maintain a certain amount of open space so the woods can’t be developed with housing. If our association members had an interest in using the woods more, the deer paths could be upgraded to walking paths and mapped out. There has been little interest so it has become a habitat for wildlife.

If we were to develop the woods as a recreational area, there would be little money for it, so the work would be by volunteers. There would be a lot of work to do. Numerous native species of plants exist there, and identification and preservation seems important. The canopy is relatively thick and consideration should be given to long-term forest health. That might mean thinning some mature trees so younger saplings can grow. There are a lot of fallen branches which could be chipped into mulch to pave pathways. It could turn into a really big project. As busy as everyone is, I’m not sure who would volunteer and I know almost everyone in the association.

Native Fern, June 18, 2019.

Suffice it to spend an hour or so hiking the woods once in a while. It takes effort to forget the manicured lawns and gardens to focus on what is in front of us in the woods. By the time I reached the top of the hill, I had forgotten whatever seemed important when I left the garden to focus on finding my way, and then my way home.

It occurred to me that even though the association owns the woods, that ownership is only loosely so. I mean the woods will continue to develop as it has, enabling brief and specific glimpses into what used to be when Iowa was mostly tallgrass prairie. We are visitors on Earth, and that for a short while. Ownership is a cultural concept unknown to the plants and animals that live in the woods. No one truly owns the woods despite legal documents so indicating.

If I want to understand my relationship with wildlife better, I need to spend more time in those woods. Maybe during another hike in the near future.