To be the foreign animal

In 2008 I slept at Hornet Lookout in Montana. This quaint cabin perched atop Hornet Mountain, a decommissioned U.S. Forest Service fire tower, is one of hundreds like it around the United States. I flew to Idaho with my dad where we joined with a college buddy of his, Dick, and the three of us drove east. The approach to Hornet Mountain is long: hours of flat, dusty dirt roads through untouched, old-growth forest. The true backwoods of the United States. I distinctly recall laughing out loud at a particular road sign we came upon, buried deep in the woods and the first in what seemed like days, that pointed out the distance to the Canadian border.

Each evening during our stay, a deer would wander up the hill to the cabin and stand just outside. Only feet from the cabin, it munched on grass, heedless to our faces pressed against the window panes nearby. On one night we were outside when the deer approached. Curious to discover the deer’s boundaries, we stood motionless, waiting. Slowly, the deer approached to within 15 feet. While undoubtedly keyed in to our movement, it exuded an altogether serene, insouciant air.

After growing tired of staying still, we attempted to creep closer to the deer, but it sensed our progress and moved off, but even then in a nonchalant manner, like a child carelessly wandering off from her parent. It humbled me, this deer. It showed me that it was us, not the deer, who were the foreign animals in this place. And despite our alien appearance, the deer trusted us. It trusted us in a way that we are often unable to do, even with other humans.