When I lost sight of them, they were creeping into the power line easement that runs through our property. Legs bent in a slight crouch, caution in every step, hand gesturing like a SWAT team, her purple, star-covered footie pajamas plainly visible again the reddish-gold October color palette.
Their quarry? A couple of deer that they’d spotted up in the woods earlier from our front porch while putting the dog out.
We’d already done the usual things: talked about why the deer were moving around this time of year, debated what a deer’s defenses against predators are, reminded them of the purpose of antlers and discussed how they fall off. But that wasn’t enough this time.
“I want to sneak up on them,” my daughter said. So after our traditional Sunday pancakes, she and her father dug out the winter coats for the first time this year and headed out into the 33 degree morning. In preparation, she also removed the jingly bracelet that she wears nonstop. That’s how I knew she was serious about stalking.
I expected them to be gone for just a bit, but it was a good 30-45 minutes before they returned. My son and I were knee deep in another Sunday tradition, the playroom clean-up, by the time the red-cheeked wanderers came back.
“We got pretty close,” my daughter said. “Like….from here to the wall?” That’s about 25 feet, for those not able to see the gestures. They were able to sneak to the easement and see where one of the deer had bedded down against the chill. It startled, and as they snuck over to check out the site, the other one also startled out of nowhere. Both were does, a few years old. She was cold, out of breath, and pretty excited about the whole thing.
My husband hunts, but I don’t know if he will take her out; she’s still only seven. We don’t know if she wants to hunt or could even handle it. The dad of a boy she’s friendly with has a camp and we’ve talked loosely about maybe having the two of them head up during hunting season, just for the experience. Her patience, tolerance for mild discomfort, and curiosity have grown tremendously over the last year, so even if she doesn’t want to hunt, I want to encourage her to keep thinking this way. To keep trying to sneak up on animals. To observe their actions and think about why they are doing what they are doing.
What’s the point? Why bother with random Sunday stalking adventures or pointless hunting excursions? Because this is how you build the love of outdoor adventure. It’s not all grand hikes or white water adventures. Sometimes it’s one “heel-toe, take 2-3 steps and scan, look out for what’s under your feet” lesson at a time. Being alert, thinking about each species, practicing your observational skills, learning patience…it’s all part of a bigger whole.
And sometimes that whole involves purple, star-covered footie pajamas.