By Matthew Stoffel
I was out on the trails in the Gator, taking pictures for an upcoming project. The camera’s battery was insisting it was time to charge, but I was determined to try and finish the short loop that still remained on The Outdoor Campus’ woodland trail. Even if it meant turning the camera off after each picture to await the next subject.
The Gator’s tailgate made a racket as I rounded the corner, and I’d long since abandoned the idea of encountering squirrels or other wildlife with the beast’s engine giving off its usual low growl. But it appears I overestimated the intimidation of the machines persistent snarl.
Standing on either side of the path was a mother doe and her twin fawns. They stood and eyed me a moment before returning to grazing. I was maybe 40 yards away, engine still protesting silence when I hit the break and stared. I took one photo before even shutting the Gator down. It may not have been sound, but at the time my logic was that if the engine didn’t scare them, turning it off might.
But the family stayed both as I shut it down and as I advanced, snapping pictures with caution. When I’d closed the gap by almost half the mother finally started to cross the trail. As she did, the two fawns took the hint and stole into the trees. I held where I was as the doe reached the spot her progeny had used as an exit. She eyed me but stayed still.
I was trying to decide whether or not to try and get closer for another shot of the doe before she too vanished when I heard a runner approaching behind me. I got her attention, put a silencing finger to my lips and then indicated the mother. The runner looked on with me a moment before telling me about another doe she’s seen with just one fawn. Then she continued her workout down an alternate route to return me to my dilemma.
In another moment of hesitation, the doe decided for me and slipped among the trees. I advanced slowly, still seeing her colors through the leaves. When I got even with where she had crossed the trail I could see her and one fawn clearly, only 20 yards or so away. The other fawn, less visible, was off to the side but ambled into my sightline again as I continued to take pictures.
The rush of the opportunity, awaited all summer, was upsetting the focus as my hands shook. Combined with the branches that violated my sightline, the pictures weren’t perfect by any means. Still, the pictures, quality aside, are mementos to one of the most awing experiences of my summer. Photographing this family gave me a new sense of what nature has to offer in such immersive moments. Moments that can take our breath away.