I have never visited Lakeview Woods in Madison, Wisconsin. In fact, I was completely unaware of this densely forested area at the highest point in the city until just recently. Located just behind the Health and Human Services office building on the city’s north side, the park’s position makes it nearly invisible to passersby on the city streets wrapping around Lakeview hill. In fact, Lakeview Woods Park is so well hidden and unknown I can’t remember it ever coming up in my conversations about things to do around Madison; however, the few comments about the park I recently stumbled upon online were all very positive. While the mystery of Lakeview Park was enough to make me want to make a trip to the location, the appeal of the natural area inspired me to add the location to my “I have never list...”. As a result, I set aside some time this evening to make a trip to Lakeview Woods for the first time with hopes I would walk away with an experience to remember.
After finishing my workday today I immediately made my way to Lakeview Woods. As I climbed the narrow driveway leading up to the Health and Human Services building I kept my eyes peeled for some sign of the Lakeview Woods Park entrance. Even though I had some idea of where the park was located, I still found it challenging to locate the path into the park. A sign for the location was set back along a row of trees that obscured it from the driveway and the path leading to the woods entrance was hardly visible among the overgrowth in the area. After taking some time to look over the path and the sign, I ultimately determined I was in the correct location, but the degree of difficulty in locating the park entrance made it all the more apparent as to why the location was referred to as one of Madison’s “secret” areas.
Once I had located the entrance to Lakeview Woods I promptly entered the woods along the sole path I had discovered earlier. After crossing a small fence at the border or the woods I was immediately surrounded by a looming canopy of leaves and walls of tall white flowers growing from the forest floor. Although the path through the woods widened upon breaking into the forest, the plant life around me made the stretch of dirt feel as narrow as it had been before. Around me an abundance of life fluttered with activity. The sounds of woodpeckers hammering at hollow trees, sparrows chirping, and squirrels busying themselves with autumn preparations were everywhere. So much so that the quantity of animals I heard or encountered caught me by surprise. Every time I turned my head there was activity in the woods, leaving me struck with a feeling of amazement. Although I was on the outskirts of the city of Madison, it felt as though I had stepped into a remote forest unspoiled by human contact. With the evening sun streaming through the forest canopy, the sight of the forest around was something to behold, which made me happy I had made the trip.
I continued down the path awhile longer taking in the views of the sunlight cascading over the forest floor and keeping my eyes peeled for more signs of life around me. Eventually, I came across an area in the woods that stood out from the areas around it. An odd, broken tree with a ladder tacked into stood in the middle of a clearing that seemed surprisingly void of growth. While there was enough of the area exposed to determine it was somehow different than the area around it, the clearing was far enough off of the trail that I couldn’t quite make out the finer details of said differences. As I stood before the area pondering what it may be, I recalled a portion of my renewed perspective I had pulled out of my skydiving experience last weekend. “Go the places people don’t go,” I said out loud looking over the heavily weeded area before me. Then, without hesitation I pressed my foot into the waist high weeds and forced my way forward.
Through thorns and burrs I pushed forward toward the clearing, landing my feet in small spaces between plants when possible. Eventually, my efforts pushed me into the clearing, which, to my surprise, was actually the foundation of a ruined building left to the forest for some years. Although the remaining part of the structure was significant in size, the growth on the forest floor had begun creeping over the top of the surface and forcing its way through cracks in the concrete. At one end of the foundation an old, rickety bench sat facing the depth of the woods, which made me wonder whether the place was frequented by other people. In response, I moved forward to check the bench, only to find a small push with my hand was enough to cause the bench to lean noticeably toward one side. As I stood briefly wondering how long it would stand, a sudden rustle and snap to my right broke my concentration.
The noise sent me moving slowly toward the area from which it had emerged, doing my best to maintain a slow, quiet pace. Despite my efforts, I eventually stepped on a branch buried somewhere in the dense weeds, which set a loud snap echo through the woods. In response, a series of light brown heads tipped with large pointy ears popped up just beyond the densest part of the undergrowth. Little more than 25 feet in front of me, a herd of seven deer stood grazing among the dense growth along the forest floor. Now aware of my presence, the deer stood weary for a brief moment before cautiously returning to their meal. Doing my best not to cause them panic, I move closer toward them through the weeds, doing my best to avoid looking at the deer directly and walking a wide path as to give the impression I was simply passing by. Although my movements caused the deer to shift their position in the forest a few times as I moved, they held their ground for the most part, which gave me the opportunity to observe them in their natural state as they wandered through the forest in the fading sunlight.
For over an hour I slowly followed the herd through the woods, flanking the group as they walked down narrow trails to find the best spots for grazing. Although several of the deer remained wary of my presence, several of the animals eventually became used to my presence, permitting me to draw nearer to them as we moved through the forest. In particular, two of the deer, a doe with a light brown, nearly gray coat and a doe with a wounded leg seemed less concerned with their presence. As I snapped photos of the herd the happily continued grazing unaffected, even when other deer showed obvious warning signs in response to my motions and the clicking of the camera shutter. In fact, the two doe remained near me even as the remainder of the herd moved off deeper into the forest, with the injured doe showing a particular interest in my presence. In response, I made slow motions closer to the pair until I was little more than 10 feet off of their positions. The ability to remain so close to such agile and tentative wild animals was something I had never experienced before, and being in their presence during that quiet evening graze in the forest was something I won’t soon forget. I spent quite some time with the pair (I ended up calling them Gabby and Gil) before the coming night led me to decide it was time to depart Lakeview Woods. Laden with burrs and left hanging on a unique experience, I left the deer and found my way back to my car and made the short trip back home.
I didn’t expect much from tonight’s “I have never...” event, but I went into my first experience in Lakeview Woods hoping I would gain some good memories to carry with me. At that time I was simply hopeful the scenery of a beautiful forest in the parting days of summer would stick with me well past today’s experience. Never would I have expected my decision to spend some time in the woods would present me the opportunity to accompany a herd of deer around the forest for the better part of an hour and a half. While Lakeview Woods is a vibrant, beautiful place on its own, the fact that a group of wild animals were willing to let me spend the better part of the evening with them was an amazing experience. I’m not used to having luck like that, but I’m happy it has been on my side as I continue through this journey of new experiences.