December 30, 2012

North Cairn: When deer are a dream come true

(Continued from page 1)

Then I saw -- as she turned her face into the stream of light and her eyes glimmered -- it was a doe, browsing in the grass and low cover, chewing a twig here, snuffling there, looking for a last little bit of food in the dark.

She didn't flee, didn't even flinch.

She looked up into the light, I suppose to determine whether the unearthly beam indicated threat or predatory intent. But sensing none, she lingered in the yard for a long time, several minutes, before edging toward the low scrub, the downed trunks and the spotty cover of woods beyond.

Some vague memory about deer made me think she might not be traveling alone, so while she was busy browsing, I let the floodlight spill over a wide circle of lawn and trampled weeds. And there I saw it: a second doe, perhaps 10 feet off.

And a third, farther toward the opening forest.

And finally, a fourth, that appeared -- but only vaguely -- to be a young buck with antlers barely begun, looking like baubles between its ears.

It was like a dream, the animals specters of imagination almost, partly because their forms were dark on dark, and the only contrast came from their eyes and the white tails from which they take their name. They were such an ethereal, slow-drifting sight, that after I had doused the light, I wondered if they had been a creation of my mind.

I had to return twice to the window to be sure.

I kept expecting them to wander off, out of range of the light, but instead, something that seemed almost miraculous occurred. All four of them moved gingerly through the weeds and briar, slowly setting one hoof after the other down, almost as if they were walking on parchment thin ice or slippery glass -- carefully, carefully and covering little ground.

They moved no more than 25 feet, traipsing languidly, looking up at me -- or at the source of the light, really -- from time to time, their eyes tiny circles of fire. They stayed near one another, remained in a loosely knit ring and circled round and round slowly in what might have seemed like a dance, except I knew from earlier experience that they were tamping down the brush, preparing to bed down for the night.

It took several minutes. Just as they had arrived in the yard one by one, they now lay down, first one, then the next, then the third stomping and pawing at the ground, then curling down at the base of a tree. And then, at last, the fourth and smallest, wedged in between them, as though their bodies had formed a large cradle for its refuge and some rest.

By the time they were finished moving and had faded into the dark of the night forest, their fatigue had lifted all the way to the second-floor window and indoors, into my own limbs. I felt my arms and legs heavy as hocks as I hauled myself away from the pane and threw myself onto my own mat, a thick set of cotton and coils made suddenly soft as down as the fog of sleep and lingering awe carried me into dream.

Whole worlds are out there, I thought, as I drifted into a sleep as liquid and light as the deer hooves barely breaking the surface of the snow beyond the window. Other creatures are moving and living and resting and stopping and surviving and growing and dying, are warm enough or too cold, are seeking shelter or the company of their kind.

The next morning, the dog and I woke, ate breakfast and strode into the yard to validate the vision of the night before. It took some close investigating, the hard look that daylight requires because the shapes of night have dissolved under harsh clarity. But we found them, cloven tracks that had about them the shape of teardrops. I even found the flattened scrub where the heavy bodies of the delicate deer had lain.

The discovery gave me comfort, a feeling of new companions nearby, another family not far off. I might not always see it, I believed then, but I am never alone.

North Cairn can be contacted at 791-6325 or at:


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