All summer we’ve walked on the California Coastal Trail (CCT) and related paths that run along the coast. At Jughandle State Park, I followed a trail away from the bluffs toward a cluster of pine trees where I thought there might be some woodpeckers,
but the trail was actually a deer track and gradually narrowed to nothing. I was only about 75 ft. from the trail and I thought I’d cut across to the path. I had to circle around large patches of blackberries and poison oak and I ended up circling under pine trees where the deer trails picked up again.
I realized that the animal trails didn’t cross the trails for people nearly as frequently as I thought. I did see a hairy woodpecker, but then I wasn’t sure how to get back to the trail. There were spaces around the base of pine trees, I could see that deer lay there sometimes, but every path ran parallel to the CCT and didn’t connect. I saw movement on the other side of a large pine tree near me—I could see antlers through the branches. It was an 8 point buck, its antlers still velvety, not much more than 50 feet off the visitor trail. It browsed its way off before I could do anything but look. After that, it took me about 15 minutes to find my way back to the visitor trail, across a lot of prickly bushes.
I felt that I had visited a parallel set of trails in the land of the deer. They can be standing in a field and be nearly invisible. Here and there are places where the paths of people and animals cross, and if you look you can see the doorways to their world.
The day we saw the bobcat was similar. Around the bend in a broad trail a strange-looking animal came trotting toward us, turning uphill from the main trail toward a house higher up. It was bigger than a dog, but I didn’t recognize it. Just then a woman came around the corner, pale-faced. “Did you see it? The bobcat?” I nodded. Its path had overlapped with ours for only a few seconds.
Now I see that there is another world beyond the trees. We think we are entering the natural world by walking on paths, but the world of animals is just beyond what we can see. We can glimpse that other world if we try; sometimes the animals forget to hide.
The trails may be faint,
but most are quite clear once you are on them.
Sometimes you are invited to step off the path,
by a bent branch or a bright fern.
Sometimes, openings into the trees are mysterious.
Eventually, you find your way back to the path that leads home.
and you run into some of the neighbors.