The words of wilderness ranger Jimmy Pardo:
A friend of mine has a theory that in order to truly know about any given subject, one must engage the thing they want to understand, be it the stars, animals, culture, almost anything. So when it comes to the natural world, there are some folks that feel that there is not much left to discover, that with the rise of technology all new discovery has been reduced to checking the twitter feed or seeing what internet news has to unveil for the public eye. “Been there, done that, bought the soundtrack and then made an auto-tune remix to put onto Youtube.”
Well I’m here to tell ya… if you can escape the concrete jungle and the digital cob webs, I invite you to discover things about yourself and the world you live in, in such places like the Mt. Hood National Forest. Any natural place will do, but within the National Forest and Parks are places, creatures, sounds, smells, textures, views that you have never seen. In a way, you will see places that no one has ever set eyes on before. Each season the face of the forest is changing, new flowers blossom, new life is born, old trails become abandoned, while new ones are being created, and for the “flat-lander,” the wilderness is nothing less than an awakening. Can one discover such things in the city? Absolutely, but in all my years in the city versus my seasons in nature, nothing awakens the imagination and human spirit like the wilderness.
Can you imagine being a creature that flies 11,000 miles from Alaska to Argentina in only eight months? The Peregrine Falcons I hear daily are capable of such a journey. On a recent hike Mackenzie was sure we were listening to young falcons testing out their wings. We even saw a bobcat dash from the road on our way to a trail. Though we only get a glimpse, these creatures leave such an impression that you have to wonder what life is like for them. What would it be like to soar on the air as a falcon, flying across the Earth with incredible vision? Or how would it feel to run 30/mph as a bobcat, having the whole forest as your playground?
There are so many things in nature that are truly awe-inspiring, things you have never experienced before. To document each one would be a monumental and near impossible task. I have been wondering about the scientific reason why most people find nature so very therapeutic and can only conclude that its is the incredible amount of medicine found there. In the bunk house at the Barlow Ranger station is a great book called Animal Speak. In it the author describes in great detail what certain animals are sharing with the world around them. Like your dog, cat, or any domestic pet, these animals bring a sense of comfort and companionship that you might not otherwise receive. So if Fido or Bam Bam can bring their owners such joy and healing, consider the effects of encountering many wild and free animals in the wilderness. These are really rare creatures to encounter and when you see them in the wild it imparts a sense of strength and freedom like few other things can. If a dog on a leash can bring such comfort than surely a bobcat in the wild can show us how fast, yet patient one can really be. If a bird in cage can bring such joy with its songs, then surely a brave lone owl calling at night will open your ears to the magical world its looks over.
So what kind of medicine has the trail brought Mack and I? Aside from falcon, bobcat, pika, deer, and countless other species, on our last trail this week we encountered a skunk. In fact this particular skunk will stay with me for some time, luckily just the memory and not the smell. As we were finishing up and heading back to our truck we were stopped by our striped friend who made sure we knew that the trail is for everyone. Our skunk waddled ever so slowly down the trail, occasional looking back at us, as if to say, “Oh, oh, are you guys trying to get by? Go ahead. I won’t spray you. Hehehehee” Finally it vanished under a small bridge. Just as we had mustered the courage to run across the bridge, the skunk returned, this time walking towards us. Obviously we gave the little guy a LOT of room. Then he stopped and laid flat on its belly, paws underneath its undeniably cute face and waited. “Are you serious” Mack exclaimed. We laughed at this potentially smelly situation. Finally after some time, I gave a sharp, percussive yell. “HEY!”
The skunk stood up, raised its tail and I was sure we were in for it, but it just turned around it walked back under the bridge. As soon as it was out of sight we dashed across the bridge and didn’t look back. Ha!
So what does Animal Speak say about skunks?
“The skunk does not get out of the way of any animal. It moves along at its own speed, with its own mind. It is self-assured and confident in itself. If skunk has shown up, it can be to help you with this particular aspect. It can teach you how to be more self-assured and how to assert yourself.”
Sidenote: Skunks can spray up to 15 feet with great accuracy, at least four times before running out of its potent defense. The skunk we ran into was most likely defending a den with young under the bridge. You can see how cute these guys really are in this short video.