By John Rezell, Editor, OutdoorsNW
The cardinal rule in the woods couldn’t be more simple, not to mention one I follow with all my heart: Don’t interfere with wildlife.
That’s easier said than done when you’re staring at a wobbly fawn maybe a week old begging for assistance.
Those big brown Bambi eyes looking deep into my soul for that most basic primal connection as she bleats her high-pitched cry for help. Unafraid she stands her ground in the middle of the trail awaiting my response.
No doubt she has never seen anything like me. And, vice versa.
It’s a standoff.
I can’t physically get around her, the trail carved into a steep section of the east slope of Mt. Hood with a 70-degree angle heading up or down.
I can’t emotionally escape her either, my heart oozing as my parental impulse to intervene begins to overtake my body until my brain halts all such nonsense at the neck.
What began only a few minutes earlier as a routine Saturday morning hike to Tamanawas Falls along highway 35, about 25 miles south of Hood River has instantly transformed into a mind-blending dreamlike moment.
I half-heartedly began to take some photos of the hike to post on some slow day, noticing the batteries in my camera were about to expire when I first hit the trail.
As I neared a bend in the trail, not more than a quarter mile in, I heard the muffled distress call just ahead. I couldn’t identify the sound. It almost sounded like a bird squawking. However, one element of that cry proved unmistakable. It was a distress call.
Knowing it’s spring and nature is birthing everywhere — having been dive bombed repeatedly by squawking red-wing black birds protecting their nesting areas on my bike rides — my first instinct told me it was a bird.
When I saw a small brown creature on four legs hobble around the corner coming at me, I quickly assumed it was the dog that was no doubt frightening some mother bird. As it neared, reality hit hard.
She kept bleating as she moved closer and closer, waiting for me to respond. She got within 15 feet of me before pausing to study me.
“Awww, where’s your Mommy?” I asked sweetly, as if she were a lost child on a playground just as the image of her overprotective mother burst into my head. “Yikes, where IS your mommy?”
I scanned the forest for any movement, expecting to be blindsided like a linebacker about to decapitate a quarterback. Nothing but silence.
Silence broken by only by her cries that dig deeper into my gut with each effort.
She stood there on the trail long enough for me to slowly unpack my camera and aim for video, only to get four seconds captured before the batteries completely died.
I’m not sure how long I paused, although it was long enough to run a number of scenarios through my brain.
The sequence began with me checking out her hind left leg, which she seemed to favor as she moved near, interrupted by a flash of brown fur exploded from the hillside almost as quickly soothed by the imagine of her sucking from a baby’s bottle in my lap.
Don’t intervene, my brain shouted to snap me back to reality.
She slowly and so confidently moved closer to me as I stepped back to avoid any interaction. I reached for my iPhone and she hopped up a nearly vertical five-foot section to my left, then paused to look back at me and bleat again.
I finally began taping her with my iPhone as she came to the realization that, whatever this creature is that she just encountered on the trail, it isn’t going to help.
As she moved up the steep incline with agility I could only dream of having, my thoughts slipped back to the children’s book I used to read my daughters, “Are You My Mother?”
She disappeared into the woods.
I gave her a healthy five minute start as I changed the batteries in my camera and contemplated my next move. I yearned to see her reunited with her Mommy and wondered if I couldn’t at least keep her safe from possible predators for a little time, having my routine hike turned into a great adventure.
I hiked up the incline, slipping and sliding where she gingerly scooted upward.
She was long gone.
But her memory?
That just might last me a lifetime.