Have you ever felt like you were being watched? All logical sense reassures you that you’re alone but an eerie feeling persistently creeps in that you’re not. I had that eerie feeling a dozen times this week while I backpacked through the Rogue River area. When you spend three days in solitude, it is easy to let your mind wander to unsettling places. Just before dusk on the second day I got that feeling while making dinner so I looked up as I had done many times already. This time, I wasn’t alone. I saw two sets of eyes reflecting my headlamp beam; it wasn’t my mind playing tricks on me again, as it had done all day. I could easily see my new companions were deer. Though they ventured close to camp, they were always aware of my every move. I am sure they knew I was there long before I saw them.
They weren’t the only deer I encountered on my trip; thirteen miles down river from the Grave Creek trail head. I went to this area to explore the proposed wilderness area that Cascadia Wildlands, among others, is working hard to protect. Because of the spring rains, the tributaries were flowing at full force. At every crossing I would try to look as far up the creeks as I could. They carve pathways into the unknown forests too thick to explore.
The dense forest and steep terrain don’t offer a lot of overlooks or vistas into the woods other than looking down the main river corridor, so it is hard to know what actually lies in the proposed area. On the second day, I decided to venture off the main trail, to truly experience the wilderness. It wasn’t easy going uphill through dense forests or trying to navigate up a rushing creek, but I made it away from the main Rogue River valley and stumbled onto an undocumented trail.
As I hiked through the woods, I couldn’t help but wonder why this trail was built, it didn’t seem to be going anywhere. That question was answered after about a mile when I came out, through the dense forests, into a large meadow. It was completely unexpected considering the density of forest that defines the area. Lush green grasses painted the gently rolling hillside. As I made my way to the middle, I finally had a vista of the proposed wilderness. Again, I wasn’t alone; about two-dozen deer were grazing and spooked when I came out into the open.
Even though I went on this trip unaccompanied, my brief but frequent interactions with wildlife provided re-assurance that I was never truly alone. It is miraculous wilderness and I am glad groups are actively trying to protect it as such.
Andrew Van Dellen