One of the reasons I live in the North Country, with its long, usually sub-zero winters and too-short season for flowers, is the deer. I don’t hunt, and I don’t have any particular attachment to venison. I don’t think they’re always beautiful animals, though they are graceful. It’s the opportunity to see them in as close to their natural habitat as possible, along with the fox, the coyote, and the wild turkey.
Last night, the dogs woke me up just before midnight. I let them out back, used the bathroom, and went to let them in. They were standing side-by-side, looking northwest into our (pathetically puny but I’m trying) fruit orchard. It’s not uncommon for Shiloh to ignore me, but unusual for Montana to do so. After a few seconds, he trotted reluctantly to the door. I walked out to get Shiloh and was stopped by the sound of hooves galloping on frozen ground. In the barely available light from the side of the house, I could see a group of deer running toward the woods.
The noise froze me for a few seconds–not to be confused with the freezing from being outside in my nightshirt in February–and I could feel the sound in my bones. Midnight is the fanciful hour, and my head went to a band of dashing marauders on horseback, stealing from the (completely bare and frozen) garden to feed themselves. A gust of wind snapped me out of it and I herded Shiloh inside.
This morning, a small group of deer was back, crossing the field to the north of the orchard. They were wary, moving in fits and starts and not stopping until almost to the edge of the woods. They browsed a bit and then stepped into the trees. Their now-you-see-me-now-you-don’t ability is always a bit startling, like they’ve vanished out the back of the wardrobe or slipped on an invisibility cloak.
I grew up in the suburbs; my wild encounters were limited to birds, the occasional snake, and the even more occasional skunk. I didn’t know that being able to see animals in their wildness would be such a moving thing. It is magical.