Guest article from our friends at Hike Across America
I wanted to write about the regeneration and growth that occurs in the spring time and the increase in activity and enthusiasm that accompanies it; for both humans and our natural neighbors. Every since I was a young boy springtime has always been my favorite time of year. I have always loved watching the delicate new leaves grow on the trees. Growing up on a farm the springtime was always a time of transformation and growth.
Last Saturday I had to work. Don’t fret for me though because the “work” that I was doing is something that I thoroughly enjoy. I work part-time for the non-profit organization; Wild South as a wilderness ranger (among other things). My work predominantly has me venturing into the Black Creek Wilderness. So yeah for work I am forced against my will to hike through the forests of south Mississippi picking up trash, doing light trail maintenance and spreading knowledge of Leave No Trace ethics. What a horrible job right? Well if you’re in the area we are always looking for volunteers.
While I was patrolling the wilderness section of the Black Creek Hiking Trail I noticed the telltale signs of spring everywhere. Plants budding the occasional blossom of various plants etc. All around me were little subtle hints that the flora and fauna were beginning to stir from their winter slumber. This time of our natural neighbors’ “awakening” can be and is very wondrous. However, we must be mindful that not everything that begins to stir in the springtime is non-threatening. We must have a healthy respect for nature and the risks/perils that come with it.
Although it was mid-February and still almost exactly a month before the first day of spring (March 19th this year) I encountered some pesky mosquitoes. Almost immediately after encountering the first small swarm I regretted not having any bug spray. I couldn’t find the bottle I knew I had at home and wanted to save time by not stopping to purchase some on the way. I rationalized the decision by saying that it was still pretty cool and that the bugs wouldn’t be out and about. That wasn’t the only time on my trek that I regretted that decision. People often underestimate our natural neighbors and end up paying the price for it in some way or another.
On this trip mosquitoes weren’t the only things I encountered that posed a risk there were even more dangerous “creepy, crawly” animals lurking about that could potentially pose a threat to one’s safety.
Don’t let the risks associated with being outdoors prevent you from venturing out and enjoying all that nature has to offer. Taking risks is a part of every day life from riding a bike to driving a car or flying. The key is to mitigate the risks and to not take unnecessary risks. If you plan ahead, prepare and stay aware you will most likely be alright.
One part of my job is removing trash from the wilderness and the hiking trail. Well after picking up a bag of trash and stuffing it into the trash bag that I brought with me I noticed a small tick crawling on the back of my hand. Ticks aren’t as active during the cold months of the year so again I falsely assumed that I didn’t have to worry about encountering any when I headed out that morning. This was another wake-up call. Ticks can carry and transmit several diseases to humans and in some parts of the United States have been associated with people developing an allergy to red meat. Here is a link to all things ticks on the Center for Disease Control’s website.
On the return trek back to the trailhead I stopped to sit on a log for a short break. I pulled out my water bottle and snacks and began to snack like there was no tomorrow. I didn’t notice one of my “natural neighbors” about 15 feet to my left. He just sat there taking it in the sun’s rays as if he was unaware that I was there. Thank goodness for zoom lenses! I was able to get some pretty decent photos without getting too close. Research has shown that most snake bites (and most other animal related injuries) have occurred when curious people get too close to or try to handle wildlife. Keep your distance and most times you will be just fine. I finished my snack put away my water bottle and trudged on.
Animals aren’t the only potential risks associated with the great outdoors. There can be any number of potential physical dangers you can encounter. A falling branch, slipping off a cliff, a slippery rock or log at a water crossing can all pose risks from moderate to life threatening. Recognizing and avoiding these dangers, if possible, can be the difference between an enjoyable outing and a life threatening /altering unfortunate event. Pictured below is a fallen tree spanning Mill Creek (on bottom) with a slightly smaller fallen tree resting on top of it.
This has been the favored creek crossing over Mill Creek every since I began volunteering and working in the Black Creek Wilderness in 2012. Within the last 2 weeks, one end of the larger log (on bottom) has begun to crumble. It’s about 4 to 6 foot drop. Being spring more people will be out enjoying the hiking trail and I just want to caution everyone to not take chances like attempting to cross the creek using this log. Yeah, you might make it once maybe even more than once but it only takes one slip, one time for the log to give way beneath your feet. A broken leg 2 miles into the trail isn’t something that you want to have to deal with. Stay safe. As the old adage goes, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. You might be slightly inconvenienced but you would rather be slightly inconvenienced than having to drag yourself or a friend miles out of a hiking trail to a trailhead in order to get help and medical attention.
Spring is right around the corner and approaching very quickly. With the warmer weather, outdoor enthusiasts will be chomping at the bit to get outdoors. I just want to urge everyone to be smart and stay safe when participating in any and all forms of outdoor recreation. Do a little research and know what you are getting yourself into. Get familiar with the risks/perils in the area that you will be visiting and familiarize yourself with how to deal with them. Appropriate behavior when facing something like a bear is going to be different than when facing a snake, wild hog or mountain lion (depending on the area).
Finally, I’d like to urge everyone not to place themselves on the ever growing list of Darwin Awards. The Darwin Awards are an acknowledgment of individuals that kill themselves and seemingly voluntarily remove their own genes from the gene pool by doing something notoriously foolish that common sense should have told them to avoid in the first place. The following description of the Darwin Awards was taken from their page:
“We salute those who improve the species by accidentally removing themselves from it. RULES: Darwin Awards honor (1) adults, who remove (2) themselves from the (3) gene pool in a (4) spectacularly clueless manner that is (5) verifiably true.”
One of the fastest routes to Darwin Award infamy is through the taking of selfies. The number of selfie-related deaths has been increasing because people want to get that perfect shot of themselves, so much so that they ignore their proximity to the cliff they are next to or don’t see the charging animal behind them. If you don’t believe me do your own google search or simply click this link: Death by Selfie. One can argue that this generation is the first that is so narcissistic that we are literally killing ourselves while attempting to celebrate ourselves. We need to put an end to that.