Regarding Deer

 

They reclined, unmoving, in the lush ivy at the back of the yard, like life-size lawn ornaments.  Six of them, with the lowering sun’s rays glowing warm through the oval cups of their ears; dark noses, turned toward the house.

I’ve just come home, parked the car in the drive and am halfway to the back door before I notice them.  All female. It’s early in the year still, but young males will have already sprouted at least the nubs of their mossy crowns-to-come. And the racks of more mature bucks would be evident – even against the backdrop of the still-bare scrim of trees along the fence.

No matter how often I see them, these wild but somehow companionable creatures, my breath catches, and I must linger and look. And they look too. Those large, extravagantly fringed eyes – dark and deep, seem to do more than look – they regard me.  It is compelling to be regarded so silently and intensely as this small herd does now, turning its attention toward me; calm, still, and seemingly unafraid. A tribe of benevolent exotics, come to rest in my yard. I’m a little spellbound and feel somehow honored by their condescending regard.

It’s hard not to assign some human attributes to them; intelligence, curiosity, imperiousness. All these come to mind. But I can’t know their reality. Are their hearts beating faster at my sudden intrusion? Is the sheen in their wide, wide eyes a sign of fear or just heightened alertness, maybe interest? Have their muscles tensed under the furred satin dun of their coats? Or are they indifferent to me, knowing the distance between us, plus an innate confidence in their swiftness, means there’s really no danger, yet?

I go into the house to start dinner.  My kitchen windows look into my long back yard.  As I chop things and stir things, the deer get up and move toward the house and I can now see it is two full-grown does and four other deer; smaller, but no longer fawns.  I don’t know if there is a name for deer not fully grown.  I watch them, and it seems they watch me as they forage ever closer to the house.  Soon, only the fence around my small herb garden below the kitchen windows separates us; about 15 feet.

I’m enjoying the company until one of the does moves into the flower bed and threatens the hydrangea.  So I go out into the yard and the does and three younger deer scamper back.  One does not.  We face each other, our heads at the same height, though she clearly has the advantage in weight and speed. She is beautiful. She takes a step closer, and I am charmed. There is a spell of wonder and delight, tinged just at the edges with fear, which roots me to the spot.  I am caught—unable to move—transfixed by this unexpected overture from a wild thing.

But now the larger deer are watching, and I am mindful of their size, their powerful leaps over fences (even the one with a damaged hind leg who walks on three and who has brought her fawns to visit three years in a row, now), the sharp hooves that pock my soft lawn all year. I break the spell with a clap.

They all turn and lope slowly, deeper into the yard. I go back into the kitchen, but still watch them in the fading light as they continue their graze.

But now dinner needs more of my attention and some minutes pass. When I look out again, they are gone.

I actually felt a little hurt. Dismissed. Their company, their regard, had, for a little while, made me feel special.

It is tempting to think we can have a communing – a relationship, if you will – with the wild things of the world, and so we are charmed, foolishly assigning them our human attributes and longing for a connection. No matter that deer are as common as rabbits, they remain unknowable; members of that powerful, mysterious, and beautiful otherness just beyond our understanding.

I feel bereft all evening long.

Injured doe who has brought groups of offspring to my yard for three years in a row.

Here’s a wonderful poem by Marge Piercy. March comes in on cleft hooves

Comments

  1. The sorrowful joy and the joyful sorrow of a small herd of does in a suburban backyard. It amazes me to read that mama has raised her young and survived to show herself and her babes to you three years now. In a more natural world you’d be glimpsing them like spirits moving silently off through the trees…gone into the deep woods. In our hood it’s the fox and her mate, then in late spring her kits that trot and tumble across our lawn and …moving the dogs toys from here to there in their moonlit games.
    May your hydrangeas make it through the spring nights up ahead.

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