There are moments when you feel like the only man on Earth, or when you get to imagine the experience of the long-gone native Delaware. Like that time I waded into the waters of Father’s Day Creek, above the gorge section, in the soft sunlight of a May afternoon, and ended up in locked stare with a whitetail deer, a buck that had had the same idea about walking into the creek moments before I did. There was no other human in sight, not a single sign of human activity — not a beer can, not a broken cinder block, not a shred of plastic. I heard nothing but river. Not even the distant whine of highway traffic. No chainsaw in the woods. No jet in the sky. It was just me and the river and the deer, and the deer drinking from the river.
He raised his head when he heard me, and water dripped off his chin. I froze in an awkward spot in the stream about 25 yards away. For about 30 seconds, he stared at me and I stared at him, a big-chested beast from the forest. I’ve seen plenty of deer in my travels, a common experience of Americans on the East Coast. I have seen them foraging near the Baltimore Beltway, on suburban streets and along country roads. I have spotted plenty in Pennsylvania, a lot of it road-kill. In fact, Pennsylvania and West Virginia lead the nation in motor vehicle encounters with deer.
So telling you about a buck in Father’s Day Creek is hardly the stuff of wilderness adventure. It’s not like I had an encounter with a grizzly.
But, in that setting of woods and water, absent any evidence of all the human activity that had occurred during the previous 400 years, it was possible to imagine that I was the only man on Earth, or maybe a hunter-gatherer from a nearby village of the Delaware. It was possible to imagine the once-upon-a-time world, before the Europeans arrived and started settling the land, cutting the trees, building cabins, tilling the soil and using the rivers for industry. It was possible, in that half-minute of a Tuesday in the 21st Century, to be just man and buck, locked in a primal stare, the hungry and the hunted. The buck stepped to his right, deeper into the stream, where the water almost reached his withers, and he emerged dripping wet on the other side, shouldered through some bushes and disappeared into the sloping forest. There was no panic in his movement. His stride in the rushing water was powerful, purposeful and elegant. He seemed to me an old soul, a survivor, and I felt honored to have shared the water with him. I am pretty sure I whispered a thank-you, something like a prayer, for those 30 seconds on Father’s Day Creek.
— from “Father’s Day Creek: Fly fishing, fatherhood and the last best place on Earth,” published by Apprentice House, Baltimore, Md. “Father’s Day Creek” is a code name for a Pennsylvania stream.