For New Year Day my family hiked a new to us trail. We walked along the Palmetto Trail through the Frances Marion Forest. Our section of the trail is called the Swamp Fox trail, after the Revolutionary War hero, Frances Marion. The path was wide and flat and easy to follow, and for the entire 5 miles we never saw or heard a single other person. That rarely ever happens on hikes anymore. We drove to a primitive campsite, parked our car, let the dog out, and started walking. Mostly the woods were long leaf pine, planted by a local paper mill. I had a chance to compare baby long leaf pine to the taller mature trees. This tree starts out looking like a fuzzy alien with long pine needles sticking out in every direction.
Fairly quickly into the hike we found a pile of scat, poop, in the middle of the trail. It was strange, as if a very lazy person chose the most conspicuous place to take care of his private needs, as if he were marking the trail. We may be an odd family, but we find scat interesting, it shows what animals are using the area. I remembered my dad telling me that bear scat looks like human scat, and bears are likely to go in the middle of a trail or pathway, as if they are saying, “I am here.”
We hiked with a new awareness, listening and looking with a different level of attention. Fallen logs were more interesting, especially if they looked like a frenzied bulldozer had plowed through them, searching for a tasty insect dinner.
The weather was perfect on this New Years Day; just cool enough to keep the walk pleasant. Our next trail surprise was a bundle of fur. It looked like someone had cleaned all the dog hair from my vacuum cleaner and deposited the fur right on the trail. We tried to figure this out. There is no dog that sheds as much as mine, but even she distributes her fur evenly all over our apartment, and on my daughter’s dark sweaters. This fur was in a clump, in the middle of the trail. We walked on, snacking on cookies and nuts.
When I stopped again to investigate a pile of scat, my amused husband pulled out his cell phone, snapped a picture and immediately uploaded it to facebook. I may be the one stopping our hike to investigate, but he is the one with very confused facebook friends as they click on that picture.
This scat was long and tubular and full of fur. I know this not because I touched it, but the fur was all through the poop. Again I remembered my dad telling me that coyotes and wolves leave this kind of scat. As they digest the furry little rodents that which is not digested is passed on through the intestines and dung is basically the parts of dinner the body cannot use. Later when I got home and read all the bemused comments under this strange photo I saw that my dad had answered the question saying that probably this was scat, “of the trickster.” Native American legends give the coyote this name; he is “the trickster” in all of their stories. We finished the hike never seeing any wildlife, only hearing birds singing and flitting from one tree to another, but we knew from the evidence that wildlife can be found in this area, and that gave us another level of enjoyment.
This walk was the perfect way to start a new year. Instead of cooking traditional foods and watching TV, we wandered in the wilderness, observing all the clues of a healthy and busy wildlife, and generally having a wonderful day. If what you do on the first day of a new year reflects the rest of the year I will be very happy, spending time with my family, walking in the woods, and investigating piles of poop! Well, 2 out of 3 isn’t bad!
How did you spend your new years day?