The subject of exactly what is watching you, and from where as you hike, has often been a subject of discussion between Ranger and myself. I hark back to the 80’s sitting in the darkness out in the bush North of North Bay with my cameras, flashes, slave units, power winders, etc all set up, aimed at a salt lick I’d left in the bush for a week (which something had been at). I hoped to get a shot of whatever animals might be attracted to the salt lick in the dead of night. I sat in the dark, dead silent and still, until I heard what sounded like a very large two-legged creature shuffling its feet as it walked toward me. Rather unnerved, I quickly turned on the big sealed beam flashlight and saw … nothing. Not wishing to ruin a week’s worth of patience getting a night shot, I turned the light off and settled back in. As you might guess, there it was again. This time it was moving very rapidly and straight at me ! I’m sure I made some kind of sound as I raised the flashlight, half intending to turn it on, and half intending to use it to protect myself from …
This was far from my first time, in the dark, in the bush. And I mean real bush. I mean 40 years before “No Exit” meant anything to me. I was young, strong, and highly experienced in bushcraft and wilderness travel. I had no concerns camping out for a week, 3 days at the paddle and 2 portages from the nearest habitation. Of course, I took all the precautions to ensure I had no problems. As my wilderness hero Grey Owl (Archie Belaney) once said concerning adventures, “Experienced travelers just don’t have any”. I wasn’t seeking adventure, I just liked being alone out in the bush.
That was a few years before the moonless night photo shoot though. Something had happened to me between those fearless, carefree days (and nights) and the night of the photo shoot. OH ! yes I forgot to finish that story off. It was a lousy toad. Each hop sounded like a footstep to me though. It was probably, ironically attracted to the light I relied upon to scare it away.
So what happens to us as we age ? Seven years before “the toad incident”, I had a name for any sound outside my tent as I lay alone in the dark … breakfast. A friend of mine had a ten year old daughter who’d tuck her shirt in, and stuff our pet python down it. She’d laugh herself silly because it tickled as he squirmed about. By the time she was twelve, she was terrified of the thing. It had never done anything to her, nor had any other snake. So where the Hell does our nerve go ?
Who’s to blame for the cowardice we display as we age ? Is it Hollywood and all the scarey movies ? Is it a sense of “I’ve made it this far, like Hell I’m gonna f**k-it up and die before I experience the whole enchilada”? Is it a case of having more to lose now, hence, more to live for ? Or is it just a matter that we can see the end of the tunnel racing toward us, and we’re hitting the binders as hard as we can ? Perhaps I shouldn’t look at it as “cowardice we display as we age”. I rarely quote movies but I remember a line from “Tough Guys” a 1986 Burt Lancaster/Kirk Douglas film which has stayed with me for near 30 years. The line, “The only difference between young and old, is that it takes courage to be old” affected me then, as much as it affects me now. The difference being, I’m beginning to understand why it affects me now.
Perhaps we don’t become cowardly as we age. Maybe we just start getting smart. I remember the exact moment I realized, and accepted, my own mortality. I can recall the exact moment it occurred to me that I wasn’t gonna live forever. I was just driving to work one lovely Spring morning. The sky was blue, the air was fresh and sweet, it was a Friday and I was to retire in a few months. I was gonna meet up with my old friend Johnny, waste a few hours in the laboratory, catch a lunch together, then go Home and relax on my back deck. Then it occurred to me, someday I wouldn’t be doing this. Someday, I’d be gone, not just from work, not just from my employer, not just from the 401, but gone, from everything … forever. Gone where ? There is nowhere to go. At first it frightened me, until I reasoned it out. I couldn’t miss this because I’d be gone. I wouldn’t know what I was missing, because I wouldn’t … be. I found solace in that, and carried on.
An old friend of mine, Macreau, (his real name was Paul) and I were camping out on the shore of a lake. We’d paddled near 2 days, and our campsite was at the end of the 2nd portage. We set up camp as night fell, and sat about the campfire eating our dinner in the dark. We heard something walking down the portage trail toward us. I turned and made a sound similar to the roar of a Tyrannosaurus Rex. If I tried making that sound today, I’d throw a coughing fit and hack up a lung or two. Anyway, it seemed to do the trick as something crashed through the bush to escape. We began one of our “what if” sessions Paul and I used to enjoy so much. “What if that was a formidable creature, like a bear or something?” I offered. Paul countered with, “Better than a human“. I asked “why would you say that?”. Paul drew a deep breath and explained “Because bears are supposed to be out here. A human walking down that path at night, this far from anywhere ? That would scare the Hell outa me”. I had visions of some guy walking up to Paul and asking “Doctor Livingstone I presume?” and Paul suddenly kicking the livin’ sh!t out of him.
However, Paul’s point was made, and taken. Our fear is determined by differing factors, far too many to list. The specific circumstances are contributing factors, combined with prior experience, personality traits, and a long list ending with, our age seemingly.
Holy Crapamoley ! I can’t believe I wrote eight paragraphs of philosophical bullsh!t, sober. Anyway, my initial intention here was to attempt to provide some data for you concerning Ranger’s ponder “Do you ever wonder how many eyes are watching us as we walk on a bush trial ?”. Well, yes Ranger I sometimes do, and you know how I hate wondering when I could know. So here’s the math for a 1 kilometer hike. Data compiled from MNR sources unless otherwise stated.
The land mass of Ontario ~ 895,000 sq km of which ~ 66.0% is forested. Therefore, there are approx. 590,700 sq km of forest in Ontario.
White Tailed Deer
– there are approx. 400,000 white- tailed deer in Ontario
= 1.5 deer / sq km
There are no moose (or negligible numbers of them) in Southern Ontario.
Rabbit / Hare
– 5 to 10 rabbits / 0.05 sq km (data from a private non-Govt. source)
= 20 rabbits or hares / km
Squirrel (red, black and grey) & chipmunk
No data exists on these little sweethearts, so I have to go on what I’ve seen on hikes of a kilometer in length.
= 7 squirrells/km
= 5 chipmunks/km
Avg pack size = 5
Avg range = 500 sq km
= 1/100th of a wolf/ sq km (higher in Northern Ontario with the denser forests and lower human population)
– is actually a hybrid between the smaller western coyote and the eastern wolf.
– avg range (S Ont) 3 sq km.
– not pack animals (“packs” sighted are mated pairs and immature pups)
= approx. 12/sq km
= 12 coyotes/sq km
– Foxes are usually, but not always, monogamous.
– Home ranges avg 6 sq kms.
= 1/3 of a fox /sq km
No data available, so I have to go on what I’ve heard on hikes of a kilometer in length.
– the unmistakable breast drumming on a standard 1 km hike ~ 6
= 6 grouse / km
Songbirds and such
– between the many types of songbirds, and woodpeckers, I’d have to guess there’d be at least 25 / km who’d be interested enough to look at you.
In rural areas, home ranges between one and four square kilometres are common.
= ½ a raccoon/km. Hard to believe that little a number when I’m chasing 4 of them from my feeders at midnight, but, I guess that’s why there’s 4 of them. I should be glad it’s not 8.
I’m not touching the insects ‘cause there’s trillions of them AND they got compound eyes to boot ! That’s just too many to guesstimate when a housefly technically, has over 10,000 eyes. Yeah, I’m sure I missed a lot of critters, but there’s only so much data one can find. Unless there’s a season on them, there’s not much data on them.
So, there you have it. I figure there are some 75 pairs of simple human-like eyes, watching you at any given time you wander for a kilometer’s distance in the bush. Big Brother may not be watching out there, but someone is. You might wanna take the opportunity to pee in privacy just one more time, before you leave the house eh ?