Hikers and Other Animals
The Appalachian Trail often brings to mind bears. I have seen three bears, singly, on my walk, all in Shenandoah National Park.
Each one seemed vaguely put out coming across me in their patch, and they all moved off, albeit one with a little huffing and puffing.
I’ve also come across a fair number of snakes. Most were harmless black snakes, but two were rattlesnakes – one dead on a country road, the remorseful driver still at the scene, and the other live, brooding in the bushes at the foot of a bridge pylon.
A thru-hiker had left an alert on the bridge rail and each of us who passed updated it – just another example of trail camaraderie.
Deer are numerous, including a brave young buck that I got six feet from before he lost his nerve. I could see the condensation glistening on his snout.
I’ve seen a beaver, who padded up the trail ahead of me, as if it hoped I’d turn off, a number of groundhogs, and a couple of skunks. I’ve heard coyotes howling and yipping to each other, maybe closing in for a kill.
Birds are too many and varied to count, the forest a din of melodies as soon as the sun peeps out. And now that summer is arriving, I’ve been amazed by the variety of spiders that appear at night.
But the most numerous animals on the trail must be squirrels and chipmunks.
Squirrels I know from town, but chipmunks are quite new to me. They’re proving unexpectedly formidable foes.
One night in Georgia, I used my pack to elevate my swollen feet. I must have left a food wrapper in my pack pocket because I awoke to rustling and grinding at the foot of the tent.
My headlamp revealed a chipmunk gnawing at the bug screen that was pressed up against the pack pocket. I shooed it away but it left three holes in my tent!
The next day I hung my pack on a branch but forgot to stash my bandana. I awoke to a shredded bandana – the work of a chipmunk seeking the salt from my sweat, I was told. The little things can’t suck with their rodent gnashers!
A chipmunk’s call is almost bird-like and on my hike that day it felt like they were all mocking me to each other as I trudged past.
To compound my irritation, they always dramatically flee under rocks or logs with a final shriek, as I approach. An environmental field worker who recently gave me a ride into town said that chipmunks will eat baby birds in their nests. I thought to myself, ‘that figures, nasty little gluttons.’
Then I remembered that we humans eat other animals’ young and I wondered whether I’d mistranslated their babblings as I went by.
Maybe they were saying, “quick, hide, it’s another lamb-eater!” But presumably chipmunks don’t know about lambs – they were definitely taunting me about my bandana!!
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