Where Does Danger Lurk?

When I pulled into the parking lot at a state forest recently, two things gave me shivers: a deer carcass near the trailhead and a big biker in black leather smoking a cigarette on the other side of the lot.

Which do you think bothered me more as a single woman heading into the woods? If you said the biker, you’re right. While the deer was most likely felled by coyotes, my radar was on alert because of the guy sitting there, watching me get out of my car alone and ride off into the woods alone.

People like to make a lot of animal encounters in the wild. Outside Magazine recently published a story about a woman who had been killed by coyotes in a park in New Brunswick, Canada last fall. During daylight. When other people were around. The story, which was echoed by the Boston Globe, elaborated on scientists’ theories that coyotes in our area have developed, through evolution, very powerful jaws capable of taking down game like deer. If you took it at face value, it was pretty chilling.

Until I get my head into my riding, I’m prone to looking over my shoulder. Shadows could be coyotes on ledges. A splash in the water crossing could be a cottonmouth. Or a rare New England Crocodile! That’s what I told the guy (who looks a lot like my older brother) who lectured me on venturing out alone — when he’s spending a year in Iraq with a target on his back! Running across hunters provokes more fear in me than most wildlife could.

this barred owl was patient with me -- a rare find during a walk in the woods

Truth is, I actively look for wildlife when I’m out in the woods. And I rarely find any. Despite all of the hours I’ve explored trails — and been lost in the woods! — in my lifetime, the last coyote I saw was walking through a suburban neighborhood in the middle of the afternoon. Deer aren’t that rare anymore, but it’s still easier to spot them in a neighbor’s backyard than from a trail in the woods. Beavers and woodchucks, yeah, they’re slow and easy to spot (too dumb to move, maybe?). When you parse that experience with the number of hours/days/weeks I’ve spent out there, does it make sense to feel fear?

A little fear is probably healthy. I just don’t want to see one coyote incident turned into Shark Week II. One guy said about the coyote incident, “do you fear automobiles?” That put it all into perspective for me.

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