Story by

Tracy Martin

January 9th, 2018

Beginning at the moment I became a mom, the journey has been a bit unconventional. (I wonder if all mothers can actually say this. I suspect it's true for everyone in certain ways.) A few hours after receiving a call from our foster care agency, we morphed from a couple of newlyweds into a family of five. It has been a wonderful, challenging, exhilarating, heartbreaking adventure since then.

Our outdoor experiences began gradually, and my most vivid memory from our first camping trip was waking up soaked in my youngest daughter's pee! To say things have improved since then would be an understatement.

Last summer, to celebrate the girls' adoption after more than three years in our foster home, we took a trip to Yosemite and Sequoia National Parks. We stood in glacier-cooled rivers, marveled at granite cliffs, and saw the largest tree on the planet. This year has brought many smaller, yet equally eye-opening, experiences, one of which happened last week.

We decided to spend the morning at our favorite local hiking spot, Jefferson Memorial Forest in Louisville, Kentucky. We've always enjoyed winter hiking for the obvious reasons: fewer people on the trails, better views due to no leaf cover, no sweating, and did I mention there are fewer people on the trails? Because we've finally mastered the art of base layer, insulating layer, and weatherproof layer, we were comfortable that morning in the twenty-something degree fog.

I let my youngest daughter choose our trail and we began hiking. In typical "hiking with the three Ks" fashion, each child had procured a walking stick and a collection of interesting leaves/rocks/litter within the first few moments. We hiked for about an hour, stopped for a snack, then continued on. After another hour, we had gone almost five miles and I decided it was about time to turn around. The kids agreed, drank some water, and we began heading back. A second later, my oldest K stopped abruptly, and her younger sisters accidentally walked into her. Two deer were walking down the middle of the trail toward her. If I hadn't been reminded of the creepy twins standing in the hallway in "The Shining," I would have been much more excited about this weird vision, but I'll admit it freaked me out.

The kids were frozen where they stood, rooted to the spot in silence. After coming within about 10 feet of my kids, the deer turned and headed sideways off the trail, disappearing into the tangle of trees and thorns. My kids were still in shock, and they slowly turned around to give me the "did that just happen" look. I shrugged. I was just as confused as they were. I'd never seen an animal walk down the middle of a trail before; they're usually scurrying across or hurrying away. My oldest daughter remarked that they both had the same patch of white fur on their cheeks. My middle K said she thought they were going to eat her, and my youngest asked if we could follow them home.

I was still floored that the deer had approached us... aren't they usually frightened? The deer were unbothered by our presence, and I still don't know what to think about that. Perhaps it is evidence that other hikers have conditioned them to approach humans by feeding them. Maybe these were just unusually brave deer. I'm no animal expert. I will say that the feeling I experienced when I made eye contact with the larger deer as it walked toward me is a feeling that is still with me, kind of chilly and exposed, but mainly it was a feeling of being interconnected. I doubt it will fade soon. For a few moments, all of us - -two deer, a tired mama, and three kids who are slowly coming to terms with our awful, gorgeous, intricate, bleak, enchanting world – were hiking the same trail. (Two days after this experience, we loaded up for our first ever winter backpacking trip. It snowed. I suspect we have this deer encounter to blame for our newfound bravery...)

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