The Yearling Trail

Kirk and I decided to take advantage of the glorious fall weather we've been having and head out for a hike. About one hour's drive north landed us in the Juniper Prairie Wilderness of the Ocala National Forest, where The Yearling novel (and its film version) took place.

I've never read the story, so Kirk filled me in on the details during the first few minutes of our hike. That conversation was set aside quite quickly, though, when a scrub jay bird flitted across our path. This is a pretty rare bird that looks brown when it's sitting and facing you on the tree but when flying betrays itself to be a full and glorious blue. This trail must be their secret hangout because soon we saw one more, and then one more -- three scrub jays right in a row! -- not to mention at least 10 more in the whole of our hike.

Soon we discovered a snake hole. Diamondhead rattlesnakes, I was dismayed to discover, abound there, too. "Don't worry. They'll stay off the trail," Kirk said. Oh good, I thought, until he continued, "They'll stick to the brush on the side of the trail." Yikes! The brush on the side of the trail was still too close to my feet for my liking. Thankfully, they stayed away.

A few minutes later, we crossed into the second section of the hike, and who should be standing guard on the top of a leafless tree branch right beside the entrance? None other than a stout male scrub jay. I almost bowed in deference to it. "This is your home, I know," I said aloud. "Thank you for granting us passage."

We spied a redwing blackbird next. Then, "Look!" (As usual, I was watching the ground in front of me as I walked.)

I looked up. About 50 yards ahead of us stood a deer that had heard us and was standing very still, looking off to the wood on the right. We, in return, stood still as cardboard cutouts -- and stayed that way at least 5 minutes, while the deer tried to discern our scent and sound. It stepped off the trail and into the wood, then paused and stuck its dainty nose into the air. It stepped backward onto the trail again and looked our way. We kept standing still as cardboard, holding our breath.

Then another one stepped behind it -- and then a tiny third! The three of them meandered within a few steps of each other, the first deer stepping more cautiously than the rest, having been warned we were there before the others had arrived, until something frightened them away a few moments later.

The rest of the hike included finding a cardinal bearing his bright red colors proudly as he bounced and danced from branch to branch, leading us as we crept along behind it, and a forsaken wood that had been charred in forest fires some time ago. The whole time, we kept scanning the sides of the trail for our deer. Of course, we never found them, and this made me sad.