(Toledo, OH) Knowing that I needed to get some exercise after a winter that saw witnessed my weight slowly increase, I headed out to Swan Creek Metropark for a hike in the late March winds. When I came across the sign that said "Fire Lane - Not a designated walking trail," I knew that the less-traveled path might offer me more to see in the way of natural beauty.
Or - more likely - I came to the conclusion that I was not going to let a bunch of outdoor bureaucrats tell me where and when I will walk in the woods.
I could hear Canadian geese honking further down the ravine, and I wanted to get some pictures of these majestic creatures. I tromped through the mud and brush to get closer to the geese, which were swimming in the flooded Swan Creek, when I heard a rustling on the path ahead.
Left: A curious resident of Swan Creek Metropark
Some thirty yards in front of me emerged a doe, which stood perhaps four feet tall at the shoulders. The animal stared in my direction, casting a wary eye at the geek in the red jacket and blue jeans that was intruding in her space. This deer, however, seemed less afraid than it was intrigued at the visitor.
We spent a few minutes in quiet examination of each other; I snapped a few dozen digital images and slowly inched closer, while the doe turned her head from side to side, trying to gauge the relative threat that the human posed to her.
My patience was rewarded, though, in an unusual way.
Left: A pair of doe eyeing me in the woods
A second doe, somewhat smaller, joined the first deer in the path up ahead. Neither animal seemed particularly fearful of me, though twenty yards seemed to be about the closest they would let me approach before moving to maintain an acceptable zone of safety.
We gazed at each other for a few minutes, and this was one of those sublime, Zen-like moments of peace and tranquility that come along once every few years. Birds sang overhead, geese honked in the creek, and it seemed as if I was a million miles from civilization.
Yet Airport Highway was never more than a half-mile to the north of me.
Left: A herd of deer passing through a meadow in Swan Creek Metropark
The pair of deer looked to their left, and out of the woods came another three doe. While others may be more familiar with large groups of deer than I, these five creatures were enough for me to settle on the term "herd" as a description.
The group continued to eye me as they foraged in the meadow for edible plants. I stood entranced, not wanting the moment to end and feeling decidedly blessed that the deer allowed me to stand in their presence for so many minutes.
Unhurried, the deer sauntered at a leisurely pace for higher ground and denser woods. I watched the last of the deer turn and stare at me for a moment, raise its tail, and turn again to join the group. I trudged back down to the river bank, but the geese headed for parts unknown during my 20-minute reverie in the woods.
As someone who has lived almost all of his life in the city, an encounter like this makes me aware of what we lose in an urban setting. For today, though, I am filled with wonder at the natural world, and I consider myself lucky for my opportunity.