“Are You A Naturalist?”

He popped out of the woods right in front of me on the trail, all crazy-haired and bearded. He was an older man. Not homeless, but maybe. I didn’t even hear him approach, and that’s the danger when you hike alone. Any guy could pop out of the woods and ask for your credentials.

“Not anymore,” I said.

“Well something’s gnawing on the trees in the woods.” He pointed to a thick section of the forest. It’s no wonder I couldn’t see him before. “About knee high.”

He wouldn’t look me in the eye. No, he was somewhere else. Somewhere in those woods.

His hands gripped an iPod and a set of headphones. How long had he been in these woods? And how did he spot a gnawed tree, knee-high?

“Not rabbit, or deer. It’s too low to be a deer. Maybe woodchuck. I don’t know.”

I tried to seem interested. I even thought about taking his portrait, right there in the middle of the Barton Nature Area in Ann Arbor. It’d make for a great photo, this dude with his swollen lips and unwashed jacket.

“I’m trying to find a naturalist so I can drag them out in the woods to take a look,” he told me.  “But you don’t qualify.“