Fall is both my favorite and my least favorite time to be in the woods. I did a short outing today and I spent the entire time out reflecting on this so I thought I'd share my thoughts.
|A local forest past I visited today.|
The morning air is crisp and cool and the trees are ablaze in autumn splendor. The cool weather is perfect for comfortable trekking, and the pestering swarms of mosquitoes and flies of summer are gone... a welcome reprieve from the oppressiveness that sometimes accompanies summer, for sure. The animals are keeping busy: the geese are still migrating and the squirrels have been busily stashing acorns for the last two weeks.
But the afternoon winds have that familiar bite to them that foreshadows the coming winter. The songbirds have mostly abandoned the woods by now, the frogs and crickets have sequestered themselves to their hideaways for winter, and save for the occasional blue jay or crow the forest is eerily silent.
There is a peculiar species that occupies the forest each fall, however: the hunter. The animals are aware of their presence; the deer, rabbits, coons, and turkeys that I've encountered regularly for the past six months have made themselves scarce. They have done so wisely as autumn is the most dangerous time to be in the forest. The danger is not limited to animals... humans are also at risk. Unfortunately far too many "hunters" these days are not woodsmen, nor are they responsible stewards of the land, the animals or of the sport. Sadly there are tragedies every year due to these careless or irresponsible people. This year I was shot at while walking on a well-know trail on a ridgeline in a public area while wearing plenty of hunter's orange. I believe my assailant was an illegal turkey hunter (turkey hunting is prohibited in that area) who was either amazingly irresponsible or who had intentionally shot at me to avoid getting caught (maybe he thought I was DNR?) Even worse: just two weeks ago there was a tragedy a few miles from the same area -a 17 year old boy, who was sitting in some brush at dusk scouting for deer, was shot dead by some coyote "hunters."
The purpose of this post is not to disparage hunters or hunting, for fortunately most hunters responsibly harvest game for their families in a legal and moral manner, and most trips in the forest are completed safely. Rather, my purpose is to discuss the dichotomies associated with the autumn season. Fall is a great time to stroll through the woods and reflect on the past summer and anticipate the coming winter, to enjoy the solitude of the forest and the freshness of the autumn air. But please enjoy the forests this autumn wisely and safely whatever your activities afield may be.