Monday, May 16, 2011

A deer? In Ulsan?: Ulsan Grand Park rediscovered

As a girl from Idaho, a fairly sparsely populated region of the world, I have certain expectations about what “nature” should be like. But travelling outside of my part of the States has proven that many of these expectations are unrealistic for the majority people living in or near big cities.

Taking my experiences, I previously had quite low expectations for nature in Korea. Nature and “wilderness” equaled a well beaten path, people not too far in front of or behind you, and wildlife that hardly ever showed its face … except magpies, pigeons, bugs, etc., that are used to the presence of humans. So, this morning brought me a pleasant surprise.

I woke up with an itch to get outside, lay on the beach, and draw. Unfortunately, the weather was not about to let that happen.

I woke up to hazy skies, a bit of wind, and about 16 degrees Celsius instead of the previous day’s 25. Disappointed, I dragged myself out of bed, and thought of alternative plans.

I could go to a coffee shop.

I could stay home.


Maybe I could go to the park?

Finally, I left the house and went to the bus stop. The first bus I saw made my decision for me. It was a bus that took me straight to the entrance of Ulsan’s Grand Park.

My plan? Go to the amphitheater in the park and draw.

When I arrived at the park, despite it being mostly empty, there was a couple walking in front of me with a similar idea … only they planned to have a picnic. They went directly to the location I had chosen in my mind.

Disappointed, but realizing it might be better, I headed off the paved path and into the woods. Not ten steps in, I passed a hiker, so I thought the experience would be as devoid of wildlife as my previous Korean ventures into the “woods.”

But another ten steps in, I startled a deer.

Stunned, I just stopped.

Looking up at the hill, I confirmed what I saw.

The deer, just as stunned, had stopped a bit up the hill.

A deer? In Ulsan? Wow.

My hopes were up, and I continued along the path.

Not two steps later, I heard and saw a woodpecker on a tree directly in front of me. After he caught sight of me, he moved behind the small tree, but he was curiously playing peek-a-boo. As much as I wanted to catch sight of him, he seemed to want to get a glimpse of me.

As I watched the woodpecker, a tufted eared squirrel started yelling obscenities and ran up a tree, while another across the way made a claim on the bark of a dead tree. Gnawing and scratching, tugging and pulling to collect bark … for what? I’m not sure.

Red Squirrel Sciurus vulgaris coreae, Photo © Tim Edelsten

I was amazed and blown away.

I had seen more wildlife in five minutes than I had in the eight months previous.

I realized that while I had been observing all of this occur around me, I hadn’t seen anyone else. Even more amazingly, this little haven was not far off the paved, overly-manicured park path.

It seems, weekday mornings are the best time to explore Korean “wilderness.”

I had ventured onto Grand Park’s hiking trails before, but on that trek I hadn’t seen any wildlife, aside from the usual bugs and magpies. It was a legitimate hike, but on a Sunday, the trail abounded with people.

I was annoyed by the old man walking behind me with a speaker blaring news. I grumbled to myself, “Haven’t you ever heard of headphones?!”

After being unable to outrun the sound, I slowed to let the man pass and try to get some quiet and hear some birds.

But I ran into another person and another.

And another.

Yes, I am still in Korea.

There was no tricking myself that Sunday.

This morning was different, though brief. The forest was quiet and filled with the racket of wildlife.

As I was leaving, I heard a rustle in the bushes and turned to see a green snake, with a splash of red. As I stopped and turned, another deer bolted into the forest, and I heard a cuckoo call out, though it took me a minute to realize it.

While there was no way I could possibly belief myself to be in Idaho (the wildlife looked much too different, as did the greenery) my brief walk this morning was quite pleasant and incredibly convenient.

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