Saturday, October 1, 2011

Oh, Deer!

   I was wiped out from Hallmarket last night and fell asleep early, after unpacking the car and putting all of my artwork, props, and supplies back in their right places. So this morning I was up bright & early, ready to go! I had planned to meet Kelly for breakfast at eggtc., followed by a 2-3 mile hike at Shawnee Mission Park with the Shibas. I felt a little guilty that Taylor had joined me yesterday as my booth mascot/greeter, while Aki spent 11 hours alone in the kitchen at home. Today would make up for that. The dogs LOVE to run through the woods, chasing squirrels and pretending they're on a real hunt. Turns out that they were. (More on that later.)
   While I was at Hallmarket yesterday, it occurred to me that that was the longest amount of time the dogs had been separated from each other ever since I adopted Taylor in July 2008. They are inseparable, and even when one has to go to the vet, the other comes along for the ride. I chose not to bring Aki because she quickly tires of crowds and strangers, while Taylor can't get enough of them. But I got a little nervous as the day went on, wondering if Aki was tearing the walls down in the kitchen, looking for her buddy. When I got home, to my relief she had been a complete angel—but pranced and howled and sang and rejoiced when Taylor walked in the door. It was the most adorable reunion ever. I rewarded her by letting her off-leash for the duration of the hike. (Unlike Taylor, she can be trusted to return when called!)
   Breakfast was great (as always), but their portions are never light—we were glad to go hiking to walk it off. We drove to the marina area north of the lake, parked the car, and hit the trail. I have hiked and run on this particular trail several times. It's narrow and heavily wooded, up and down, and littered with tree roots and rocks. Even though it's not remote, it can feel that way. Perfect! The one difference I hadn't factored in was that I've always hiked it counter-clockwise, and today I went clockwise. (More on that later.)
   We hiked. And pretty quickly, we passed a sign saying that we had completed 1.2 miles of the 2 mile loop. I was disappointed in how quickly it was going! I glanced down hill toward the fire road and beyond the road and trees I could see a beautiful, sunny meadow with very tall grass, flanked by colorful trees. We walked down so I could get a closer look and take a few photos. The trees' shadows made an interesting shape on the grasses.
   I set my pack on the ground and looped Taylor's leash over my boot. He waited until I wasn't paying attention and then bolted, and the leash flew with him. He bounded into the 4' tall grasses like an idiot gazelle, leash trailing behind, and after a couple of leaps he disappeared. I hardly bothered to yell his name. I knew it was no use. Every few seconds I could see the tops of the grasses swaying just enough to allow me to have some idea of where he was—further and further. Like when Bugs Bunny tunnels underground and you can see his trail on the surface. Then... nothing.
   Aki took off after him. They both vanished and I began to sweat it... we had only planned to hike for about an hour. Were we going to spend the entire day looking for them? Kelly stayed put, since he was on a hill, to keep watch. I jumped into the grass. Since it was 4' tall and I'm only 5' 1.25" (that last quarter-inch is critical) I couldn't see well. I zig-zagged for a minute before I saw a dark shape ahead of me, hugging the ground. I knew from the pointy ears it was Taylor. He appeared to be stalking something. As I approached I saw Aki on the other side of a small clearing, facing him. She was standing and had her paw up like a Pointer, body rigid.
   They were staring down a very large, very dead deer carcass. It did not smell pleasant. It was a pretty fresh kill, although something had been picking at it. It was a young buck, judging from the size of its antlers. The grass must have concealed its smell (from me, not the dogs) until I got up close. I struggled not to gag as I stepped on Taylor's leash and picked it up, said, "C'mon Aki—leave it." And the three of us headed back up toward the main trail to continue our hike. The dogs were pretty much on cloud nine at this point, having found their quarry and brought me to see it.
   We hiked and hiked, and I started to get the sense that we should have come to the end of the loop by now; it felt like we had gone well beyond 2 miles. We saw a clearing ahead, a fence, and a field full of baled hay. We had absolutely no idea where we were.
   There was a park sign on the fence that announced, "END TRAIL. 15% COMPLETE". Not helpful. We had followed every sign along the trail and it led us to a dead end! The counter-clockwise path is well-marked, but someone must have stolen the signs from this direction. We backtracked and came to a bluebird information area with a fantastic lookout. All we could see were trees.
   We kept along the path, and Kelly spotted a large bone next to the trail, and shortly after, a sad-looking face on a walnut. We hoped that these were not bad omens. They sure didn't look like GOOD omens!
   We came to a large pond covered in algae—which looked like grass! We stopped to rest for a minute, and Aki managed to get up to her elbows in thick, black muck. Guess who's getting a bath later?!
   We headed back down the trail. As we were walking, I glanced to my left, kept going, then stopped in my tracks. I felt like we were being watched. I backed up a few steps and about 15' up the hill was a pretty deer watching us from a shady group of trees. I got a quick photo before she vanished, white tail flagging.
   Slowly we found our way back to the fire road, where we found the deceased deer earlier. From here we knew how to make it back to the lake where my car was waiting. All told, the hike was 2 full hours, twice the length of time I'd planned. But it was an interesting morning, and we returned home tired and satisfied with the excitement we found this morning.