Loving the Wildlife

This post will happen again many times over the course of this blog, mostly because these situations keep coming up. There are a lot of factors that make people afraid of outdoors adventures, but one of the several recurring factors is the local wildlife.

“Don’t go kayaking in that creek, I heard they spotted a gator two years ago.”

“You know the news said there’s a bear wandering near that mountain.”

“ACCCCK! SPIDER! KILL IT WITH FIRE!”

This is what many people think wildlife encounters are like.

This is what many people think wildlife encounters are like.

Those are just a few of the things people tell me whenever we talk about the outdoors. Yes, folks, there are animals out there. Some of them could even hurt you. Once in a blue moon, there’s an entirely unprovoked animal attack, literally where a human was doing exactly what he was supposed to be doing, and out of nowhere a wild animal comes after him. Even in those “out of nowhere” cases, you have to understand there could have been extenuating circumstances that prompted the attack–even though they were absolutely NOT the human’s fault–like perhaps the bear had cubs nearby or the animal in question happens to be highly territorial. (Interesting trivia: did you know that more people are killed by hippos every year than any other animal? They’re uber-stingy with their territory.)

I’ve had some interesting encounters with wildlife, but when I say encounters, I only mean that I WAS THE ONE who’d encountered it. The animal could have cared less that I was standing there.

Exhibit A: I was in the woods one day and a mountain lion walked right in front of me. It looked at me, flared its nostrils, and walked away. It had smelled me and decided I was NOT useful. The fact that it took about ten minutes to finally vacate the area enough for me to get my back off that tree and race to the car was MY problem, not the mountain lion’s.

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Exhibit B: I was hiking in the woods with my husband after a night of heavy, heavy rain. I love hiking after a big storm because the paths turn muddy from the rain but the heat of the next day dries the mud enough to walk on. That means you can walk around pretty easily and still see tons of fresh animal tracks. I pointed to one in particular and said, “Hey look! A mountain lion track!”

A short time later, I got to point and say, “Hey look! A bear track!” My husband laughed and said, “There aren’t any bears in this part of the state!”

I wear a women's size 11 hiking boot.

I wear a women’s size 11 hiking boot.

No sooner had the words left his mouth than his phone beeped. We had a friend who was going to join us that day but he had something come up that morning. He told us he’d be along later in the day and would try to catch up with us, but not to wait on him.

The phone had beeped with a text from that friend. It was a picture of the bear he’d just seen. (Man, do I love being right, and do I love to punish a non-outdoorsy husband when I am!)

Exhibit C: We just got back from a camping trip to go kayaking in the southern part of our state. Yes, folks, that’s the alligator that was floating in the middle of the lake, right in front of our kayak. As it turns out, just the week before, someone had caught the record-setting gator at 920 pounds. I wasn’t actually aware there ARE gators in that body of water… now we know.

Hi there, gator! Nice camouflage.

Hi there, gator! Nice camouflage.

Here’s something important to remember. For 99% of the animal-human wildlife encounters, they don’t want to hurt you. There’s a reason it makes the news when there’s an animal attack. Even the famously-feared shark attacks are rare enough that it warrants sending a reporter to the now-empty beach to stand there and tell us what happened.

As a general rule of thumb, if you leave them alone they’ll leave you alone. Yes, there are animals out there. Guess what? They also walk through your yard at night! But with a little respect, some forward thinking, and a promise never to attempt to take a selfie with an armadillo, you’ll be fine.

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