A Walk Away From the Order of Things

A deer hiding behind branches is eating grass

Image via Wikipedia

Darkness sets in early now and this is especially so in the cover of thick woods.  At almost the moment I stepped into the woods I saw a deer quietly pulling at some remaining green leaves on the path’s edge.  She looked up and stared, only 20 yards apart.  The deer waited motionless — frozen but seemingly unconcerned — and so I took a couple steps toward the animal.

I expected the deer to move quickly off the path, but instead she resumed eating.  I got a few feet closer and she looked up again, her ears pricked up high and straight.  This time she appeared more alert, with her neck taught and chin firmly pushing upward; she seemed to almost be standing on toe-tips, ready to to spring away.  Instead the deer took a half hop into the woods and was gone.

I kept walking slowly, trying to be quiet and casual.  I’m certain I must have seen this same deer many times.  I looked around for some of the others but found none of them.  When I reached the point where the deer had been feeding I looked into the woods and she was there, maybe 20 feet away.  She didn’t seem alarmed at all.  In fact she turned her gaze away from me to rub an itch on her flank, then slowly looked up again at me.

I thought of taking a step toward the wood, but didn’t really see the point.  I realized I would have been disappointed if the deer let me get any closer.  I’m worried enough as it is.  She seems too tame.  And as I am fretting about this the deer took a half step toward me, stretching her head in my direction.

I had ever been so close to a deer before and so I don’t know what deer do, but she seemed to be lifting and lowing her lip; I presume taking in my scent.  She didn’t seem at all stressed otherwise and so I worried more.

I know I am not the only person this deer sees.  We are in a city, after all, and even if the places she haunts are less known, certainly other people share my path often enough to see the deer.  It likely is a daily experience for her.  But I feel responsible…or responsibility, perhaps.  And so I worry.

This poor deer has grown so accustomed to people that she lingers easily when people are near.  What will happen when someone decides the city needs to cull the deer?

In a way I feel like my friendship with the deer in this park is a betrayal.  I give them no reason to fear me and I never spend more than a minute watching them.  By stopping, looking, and moving on I sense that I am telling them I am not a threat.  But I am a threat.  Not me specifically, but people like me.  And maybe my actions train the deer to misjudge people.  They don’t see us as a threat.  They don’t hide when they sense us approaching.  I don’t like to think about it.

(It was dark and getting darker fast.  That’s for sure.)

So I continued my walk.  The cemetery looked especially nice tonight.  My camera phone doesn’t handle low light very well.  But I did get a decent picture of the changing maples.  Cemeteries looks rather nice in the fall season.  I wonder if there’s something archetypical about that.

I’ve mentioned before that I find it ironic on these evening walks through the woods that the cemetery shines brightest, like a refuge of some sort.

Is this another of my silly posts?

No raccoons tonight, but I did stop and hope one would appear.  You have to stop in the woods.  Stop, stand still, and listen.  Tonight was a breezy and sounds were hard to pick up.  Nevertheless when you let your ears survey what is happening around you, you do pick up a lot.  Tonight I wasn’t disappointed.

I heard an owl calling from high up in one of the very tall, very old cottownwoods.  It was a great horned owl, I think…well, I’m pretty certain.  It called out on an interval spaced by a minute or two.

A tip for finding an owl — they are not easy to spot, especially in the dark — is to use a kind of triangulation.  Listen and get a general bearing.  Then move a short distance keeping your eyes fixed on a point in the direction from where you heard the owl.  Stop and wait.  Hear again and look again, adjusting your reference point.  Naturally your perceptions will start to home in on the owl.  At first I thought tonight’s owl was near the cemetery fence, but it turned out to be nearly on top of me!

Finding owls when you hear one in the woods can be a difficult task because their call is so throaty, soft, and muffled.  I gave up on actually seeing my owl tonight.  It was getting spooky dark.

In fact through the brush I saw moving figures heading toward another corner of the woods.  Druids, I suspect.  So I figured my time to linger had likely run out.  The night shift has things to do and who am I to get in the way.

I still worry about those deer though…


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