I headed out of the neighborhood for my walk today. There are only so many routes I can concoct out of the limited number of streets in our little community so I relieve the boredom by putting in my miles elsewhere once every week or two.
A favorite location is around Spencer Field, a four-square-mile tract the Navy uses to train helicopter pilots. It probably was out in the boonies when it was first built but Pace has sort of grown up around it. It's not far from my house and even closer to the gym so I often walk there after I've done yoga or the strength class. About a year ago the county put sidewalk along the perimeter so it makes a nice place to walk...as long as you don't mind student pilots learning take-offs and landings over your head. Not every day but probably more often than not. And you wouldn't want to take off around the field in marginal weather; there aren't any shortcuts back to the park where you leave your car. The sidewalk goes a mile east, a mile south, a mile west and a mile north. At least that's the order in which I walk it.
Despite the helicopters and traffic on the adjacent road, it's really a pretty peaceful place to walk. The residential neighborhoods on the north and south sides are older so they're filled with large live oak trees that can offer shade, depending on the sun's angle at the time. And there's a buffer of trees the Navy planted years ago, probably to protect those homes from the winds generated by the helicopter blades as they get near ground level. Those trees are mostly mature firs but there's some live oaks mixed in too. The size of that buffer varies. There are places where it's only about two trees wide but others where the trees are close together and span a stretch of 20 yards or so. There are birds and weeds/wildflowers and even the occasional squirrel which I tolerate because it's on someone else's property, not mine.
I was thinking about my walk there two weeks ago when I made my lap around the field this morning. Like today, the sunshine was plentiful then too but my sweatshirt felt pretty good against the crisp air that morning. I was warm in just my T-shirt today.
With two sides behind me, I was well into the third mile as I trekked along the south side that day. I'd been thinking about how few people I'd seen as I made my way around the big square although the sidewalk is never crowded. It seemed the cool weather was keeping everyone inside.
Suddenly I saw motion just ahead. I looked intently down the sidewalk but it was empty. Surely I didn't imagine the movement, did I? Then I saw it again. There in the space between the trees and the fence stood a doe. Her head and ears were up and she was watching me intently. I stopped dead still so as not to frighten her more as she wasn't far away from me at this point.
There's a grassy strip about the width of one of those big commercial mowers that runs just inside the Navy's fence and she'd been enjoying a midmorning snack as the sun warmed her back. Apparently it was so tasty she hadn't heard my footsteps although the rubber soles on nearly-new concrete wouldn't have made a lot of noise. Then again cars had been going up and down the road all along so she must have felt quite safe behind that fence.
We locked eyes for a few minutes before she turned and meandered up the slight grade into the dense trees just a few feet away. She didn't hurry but she didn't tarry either.
Then I saw why. Just a few feet away was a fawn that I hadn't seen at first. I don't know whether the doe was blocking my view of it or whether I was staring so intently at the doe I just didn't see the fawn until she moved away. It was all eyes, ears and legs and oh so cute. Well, there was a tail too which was wagging furiously, as if to say Gee, I'd love to come play with you! Then the foal must have heard the silent message its momma sent because its gangly legs were soon carrying it up that same grade and into the trees beyond. I looked all around to see if there was anyone else who'd been a party to this close encounter with nature but the sidewalk was still empty.
I've seen deer inside the fence in this area before but I've always been in the car when I did. The fence is only about 4' high, an easy height for these graceful jumpers but high enough to keep out predators. And it's a great habitat. Trees for cover, a small marshy area for water and four acres almost entirely covered with grass. There's plenty of non-helicopter time and space for uninterrupted grazing. Man and nature coexisting in the middle of Pace, Florida.
I didn't see the deer on my walk today but you can be sure I was watching for them the entire length of Mile 3. I had been looking for a way to relieve the boredom of my regular routes and I found it. I just didn't expect it to involve deer.