It was a thrill to see moose on the Appalachian Trail. Photo by Madelyn Given.

Wild Animals and Hiking, Part 2

In my hiking adventures on the Seven Continents, I have seen many animals. If you leave them alone, they usually will not bother people. One morning while hiking the Appalachian Trail, I was up at dawn, packed up my tent, and was moving along the trail at a good clip to get warmed up, as it was early April high in the mountains.

Moose were a special sight on the Appalachian Trail. Photo by Madelyn Given.

Moose were a special sight on the Appalachian Trail. Photo by Madelyn Given.

I had hardly gone very far when out of the corner of my eye I saw movement. I turned my head and looked and lying on a fallen tree was a tawny panther. I froze just looking at this awesome creature with its long tail, the small pointed ears, head, and long sleek body. It had been asleep and I had woken it. In a matter of seconds it sat up, jumped from the leaning tree to the ground, turned, paused, looked at me, and then was gone. No time for a photo, but it registered in my mind as a very vivid picture. I saw or heard many animals on the Appalachian Trail: wild pigs, wild horses, coyotes, moose, and bear.

I had one encounter with a black bear. I had hiked that morning from Mount Madison Hut along the Presidential ridge and was heading down towards Pinkham Notch. Along the way, I passed four through-hiking friends sitting on a big rock, where they were taking a little break. General was a strong young man and recent graduate of the Citadel. Boss and Spammy were recent college graduates, physically fit, and Crank was also a strong young man, from Texas. We had spent much time together on the trail earlier. After a while they passed me again, and I was hiking by myself. About an hour later I heard shouting far down the trail ahead of me. I kept walking and I realized it was Crank, since I had not seen any other hikers that day on the trail.

I came up a rise and ahead of me was a black bear, running straight towards me. I heard Crank say, “Help Madelyn!” The bear was not growling or being ferocious at this point, but it came close to me and then began circling. Crank was running towards me and hitting it with his hiking sticks. General was petrified and was standing on a big rock and shouting and banging his trekking poles. Boss and Spammy were peppering it with rocks.

I was calm and trying to see how to get away from the encounter. General pulled me up onto the big rock and I could see a natural high wall past a stream we had to cross, and then we could slowly climb to get out of here and along the trail. I was the oldest and slowest. I said, “Let Spammy and I go ahead and get a good start, while you keep the bear’s attention, then the three of you stay together and follow us.”

All the while, the bear was circling us and keeping us blocked in this area. On cue, I jumped down and headed for the stream, with Spammy on my tail. We never stopped, but we could hear the three men shouting as we climbed the straight, high wall and headed along it. Soon Crank, General, and Boss were with us. Crank had broken his two hiking sticks which he had used since starting the AT in Georgia. We reported the incident when we reached the next town in New Hampshire, and the rangers knew about this rogue bear, as it had entered a tent and taken food. In cases like this, they tag the bear and relocate it to a less populated area.

A couple of weeks after the incident with the aggressive black bear, I was hiking the AT in Maine, happy to have almost completed the entire trail. I was in a dense cedar forest and the trail was very narrow, with little visibility ahead. I came alongside of a small black bear, asleep on its back in a tree, just like I would be in a hammock. I was so close I could have touched it. It jumped up instantly like it was in shock and disappeared. In a minute or two it came out on the trail to look at me (as if to check that I hadn’t been a dream), shook itself, and then lumbered off.

Animals are a great wonder in the wild. It is a part of the adventure in hiking.

(posted August 16, 2016)

Elephants coming straight at us! Photo by Madelyn Given.

Wild Animals and Hiking, Part 1

In my hiking adventures, seeing animals in the wild is a highlight long remembered, a sudden surprise that adds to the thrill and adventure of being in the wilderness. One time in Kenya, I had been hiking during a very long day and it was hot. The staff had forgotten to pick us up and several of us were walking back to our campsite. I was walking ahead and just as I rounded an opening in the brush and small scrub trees, a herd of elephants came charging out.

I froze and Clive, my guide, said “Don’t move.” The matriarch was enormous and the others were large, too. She stopped and smelled me with her trunk. Her ears were flapping and all were trumpeting. It was a scary racket. This all happened quickly, and then they all crossed the opening at a running pace and disappeared. Elephants are a majestic, grand animal and very special to see, understand, and keep safely on this earth. It is a lasting thrill to see them in the wild.

The opposite of the great wilds of Africa was hiking on the Appalachian Trail (AT). In four months of hiking with zero days off, I did encounter a few types of animals. Deer fill me with happy vibes. They are harmless, dainty animals and a joy to watch.

A beautiful deer on the Appalachian Trail. Photo by Madelyn Given.

A beautiful deer on the Appalachian Trail. Photo by Madelyn Given.

I had made it all the way from Georgia to Virginia on the AT, when one day I spotted a deer ahead of me nibbling on leaves from a tree. I stopped to watch her and she didn’t jump with a start and bound off—instead, she kept on munching leaves. I picked a few leaves from another tree and slowly moved towards her. Almost within reach now, I put out my hand and she walked towards me and ate the leaves from my hand. With her eyes so big and beautiful, and her tail flicking away flies, she gave me a lovely greeting, and then turned and walked out of sight.

During the 2,175 miles plus that I walked on the Appalachian Trail, sometimes animals came to me. One night I had set up my tent and gone to sleep. I was awakened by footsteps outside my tent. The sound came closer and closer until it went around my tent. Fully awakened by this unusual happening, I shouted, “Who’s there?” No answer. Soon the footsteps went away. In the morning, I saw the footprints of a lone deer.

Another night, two months later, I was still hiking the AT and I was in Maine with less than 200 miles left to hike. I had hiked 27 miles that day and as dark was approaching, I tried to find a place to set up my tent. It was a swampy area; I was alone and hadn’t seen anyone all day. I set up my tiny tent in the middle of the trail; it was late and I planned to leave at dawn. I was tired and went right to sleep, but in the night I heard thumping coming down the trail.

I knew it was a moose. I just lay there in my tent, hoping it would go past me. It slowed to a walk, went around the tent, and resumed its faster clip as it thumped along the path, until I could no longer hear it. I almost immediately fell asleep, too tired to worry about any other encounters.

(posted August 9, 2016)

The joy of birds is delightful. Madelyn Given isn't afraid to get close to them!

The Joy of Birds

Birds have a way of attracting one’s attention in our daily lives, whether we’re inside the home or outside running, hiking, or kayaking. I’ve learned a lot from birds—more from them than they from me! Their survival skills are amazing. They stay attuned to their surroundings. They are good at what they do, they persevere, work from dawn to dusk seven days a week, and never complain. Instead, they go about life happily chirping tunes to support each other and warn of danger.

Birds are curious, trusting and appreciative. We gained the trust of a pair of phoebes after they built a nest over the entrance door of our porch. This was not an ideal nesting place for them or for us. The constant banging of the door as people went in or out was annoying to them, and we were less than thrilled about the messiness to avoid with our feet.  We left the nest until after the babies flew out of the nest. Then we built a tiny triangle shelf high in a corner of the porch.

Soon after, the same pair of phoebes greeted us and built another nest, but this time they used our shelf. They repair the nest each spring and sometimes this nest has several hatchings of babies in one year. They greet us and chirp a greeting from the nest as we go in or out.

Hummingbirds are trustful, curious little helicopters who swirl in one place, watching what we are doing, before tiring and going on about their feeding. They know our voices and act differently toward visitors in our home. Baltimore orioles can spot a newly-placed orange the first day in spring when it is hung on a tree. They hoped we would remember that they were coming back.

Water fowl are interesting to observe and get to know. Wild ducks and Canadian geese return to the same nesting site each spring. They have good memories and remember that a seed or two may be under the bird feeders. Creatures of habit, they like to walk the same paths again and again.

Crows are intelligent birds, whether people like them or not for their clever ways. They have a guard on duty while several others are eating. They stay in a small group to support and protect each other.

While hiking, I enjoy birds. Listening and identifying birds keeps the mind occupied when putting in a long hike. Spotting birds in surprising places is something to remember.

My most unusual bird-sighting was in Russia, when I saw an eagle sitting on top of Mt Elbrus, the highest mountain in Europe. It was over 18,000’ in thin air in a complete white out. The clouds opened for a few seconds and there sat the eagle, only a couple of feet from me, eating a rabbit. It did not fly and was not at all interested or afraid of the four humans, two Iranians, my Russian guide, and me. The storm showed no signs of stopping, so we stayed only a few minutes before leaving behind the eagle at that unusually high elevation.

One sunny afternoon on the Appalachian Trail, I was greeted by two Canadian jays. They flew from one rock to another, waiting for me to feed them. I stopped, put down my pack, found a trail bar, and broke off little pieces—and lo and behold, they ate from my hand.

Birds are nature’s wonder and without them the world would not be as pleasant and full of joy.

(posted July 26, 2016)