The wrong turns can be the best ones

I almost missed them, they passed that quickly as they crossed the path in front of me and I froze, willing them to pause, to let me get a picture. Two big deer, one antlered, disappeared into the underbrush. I started walking again and a third sprung out from a natural bower of vines pulling tree branches nearly to earth, across the muddy trail, into the ferns and and bushes and tree trunks climbing the ridge on the other side.

I walk  softly now, and I see them watching me, maybe 30 or 40 feet away but hardly visible in the underbrush, and I stop. We stand there, me with camera poised, they with ears bricked and legs taut, ready to spring, white tails flipping but otherwise motionless; it’s like the childhood game we used to play – who blinks first.

The big one does. He tosses his head, snorts, then watches. I don’t move. He stamps once, twice, and snorts again. The smaller two butt heads, start moving deeper into the woods. And finally he, too, snorts one last time, turns, and bounds up the ridge, into the dark parts of the trees.

I never did get my picture – not of them, anyway. But I finally spent a morning following the trails that crisscross the forested ridges overlooking my house. I breathed deeply, and smelled decaying wood and flowers I couldn’t see.

The paths went from rocky to grassy and back; sometimes they were still so muddy from yesterday’s torrential downpour that pools formed in my footprints. The sun, already hot on the road, was light and cool there, filtered through hundreds of leaves that showered rain drops on my head every time the wind shifted them.

I recognized a robin’s call, heard the trill of some bird that sounded eerily warning, watched butterflies dart from daisy to daisy when the path opened to a glade of knee-high grasses.

I found myself running on the downhills, gravity pulling me faster; felt the burn in my calves and thighs and I forced myself up hills that never seemed to end; and much later than I had meant, I found myself in the entirely wrong corner of the forest.

I’d wanted to walk to the bank, to the Farmer’s Market, before both closed at noon; and so I quickened my pace and followed the university’s disc golf course back to its start, to a road I knew, and regretted that last choice of a path, the one that took me down instead of up and back toward home.

But sometimes it’s the wrong turns that are the best. Following the disc golf course I realized it’s a fitness circuit as well, with stations for curls or stair exercises and sticker-injunctions with one-word commands: “Walk.” “Jog.” I’ve been contemplating a gym membership; instead I’ll try this, in the quiet forest with the deer.

And on the hurried walk down the street back home, bug bites itching and the sun hot overhead, I found wild berry bushes with berries ripening on the vines; mint plants taking over the shallow ditch; and wildflowers I’d promised myself to bring home (and don’t they look lovely with my ripening nectarines?).

And it was that wrong turn that brought me into a staring contest with a buck.

(Today I posted about the wild mint and wild berries on a collaborative site my cousin runs; drop by The Tortoise Initiative if you care to read more.)


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