I knew Maine was beckoning me back up north the night five white-tailed deer came to the backyard and dawdled in the dusk, doing nothing more than putting every other form of evident beauty to shame.

The dog saw them first, out the back door, enormous intruders in the territory she had come to think of as her new home, though it was only a two-month rental on Cape Cod, not far from the hospital where my knee replacement had been done and friends were available to help during the critical early weeks.

By the time the deer made their appearance, my world – never vast to begin with – had diminished to the size of a pinprick in the sky out over Cape Cod Bay and beyond the Outer Beach. Pain – and the ministrations for it, including opiates – have that effect on the mind, its dreams and imaginings, and for several weeks my existence felt as though life itself had come to a standstill.

But it was the lingering presence of the deer that defined stillness, really, and they were on the move, their wide eyes like dark beams in the graying light, their twitching ears and flicking tails sputtering off the solid forms of their bodies like debris in a comet’s tail.

I called a neighbor who had been so solicitous of my well- being during my surgery and recovery that it made the small house seem like a private hospital. I told her the deer had arrived and, shortly, she did, too, taking up her post in the driveway of the house next door where she had a clear view of the yard.

She did not come in – not into the yard, not into the house, not into the private moment the deer were creating among themselves. She remained about 30 feet away, extremely still, blending into the scene so naturally and unobtrusively that I did not notice her either coming or going.


And then, without hurry or alarm, the deer began to quit the yard, dissolving into darkness and the thick hedges at the borders of the property. I was sorry to see them go; I had been through a stunning ordeal, and their visit had made it possible to envision that sometime soon joy would overcome pain, and recovery would be a promise well kept.

From the instant on, for the next few weeks, I could almost feel gusts of Maine in the wind, though on Cape Cod things were warming up and crocuses and daffodils began to appear – miracles after this brutal winter of 2014. I hadn’t heard much stirring from 200 miles closer to the Canadian border, but after that night people were in touch almost daily, as though a frozen flood of email was thawing with the season.

The deer ambled through my thoughts for several days and nights, and I would bring them into inner view just to see their elegant grace, their powerful hocks and legs that seemed only a little thicker than the stalks of invasive bamboo out back.

There was something about imagining these graceful creatures that was especially comforting as I began to hobble anew myself, adjusting to the human trick of replacing bone with metal and accomplishing a repair. In the wild, a predator stronger and faster would have brought me down, and, of course, a knee replacement is no ticket to immortality, but somehow it seemed if a whitetail could outlive the winter squalls, my own rescue couldn’t be far off.

And finally, the days of being crimped with awkward, tentative movement compressed into hasty preparation for the trip back to Maine and the return of the property owners to the antique Cape from which we were reluctantly leaving behind.

But spring migration had begun.


I’m finding it easier this year, the flight north. The knee still requires constant attention – and ice, a commodity hardly in short supply even now as the Canada geese haul themselves higher into the warming air, the chickadees dance in the low boughs and each day opens with bird song rather than total silence of a snow-studded forest.

Even the peepers have begun chiming, as signal a sound as the creaky call of the red-winged blackbirds out over the marsh.

The worst is over.

We’re moving, too.

North Cairn can be reached at 274-0792 or at:

[email protected]


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