Yesterday held all of the promise of being a banner release day for Daisy and Holly deer. Deer hunting season was finally over. The weatherman had predicted a warm start of 50 degrees in the morning, with rising temperatures to near 70 by afternoon. Of course, the Oklahoma wind had to throw a screwball into the event. Deer tend to be anxious and jumpy on windy days. Nevertheless, we had waited a long time for this special day, and nothing could have postponed the event.
I arose at 6:30 in the morning to a sweet, female voice on the radio station, singing a country song. Always considering “sign’s” or meaning in everyday happenings, I wondered if the song indicated anything about the day, but I quickly discounted that it idea – unless I planned to hit the honky-tonk later in the evening, and that wasn’t happening! As I dressed for the day, it dawned on me that it was a wonder I managed to sleep at all the night before; excited yet anxious about the day ahead. This was the day I had both looked forward to… and dreaded. I had grown weary watching Daisy and Holly pace the fence each day for the last two months. I knew they were ready to be free – needed to be free – and it comforted me to know, once free, they would be happy, exploring their exciting, new world. Deep down though, I knew I would miss them greatly, tremendously. I had raised Daisy from the time she was just a day or two old, an orphaned fawn needing a mother. How would I manage to detach from what had become so much a part of my daily life since last spring?
At about 7:00, FD started the coffee and I let our three little ranch dogs out to do their morning business. Daisy and Holly were, as usual, already pacing the fence and Daisy had quite a trot going. Bear, Tori and Zoe, our three Japanese Chin, scampered back to the house, entering the front door and making a fast run to the kitchen for their morning treats. I quickly set about cutting up an apple for Daisy and Holly, and then readying the cameras. I wanted everything in place by 8:00 when we planned to release the deer. Donning my jacket, I headed out to open the front gate of the property. A friend was to arrive shortly, bringing a video camera to record the event. As I walked the driveway to the entry, my “sign” arrived. A female robin landed just 6 feet from me and chirped, staying with me a short few steps, and then flew off. I didn’t think much of it except it was odd to see robins in January, but then I had been seeing a few lately. After opening the gate, I headed back towards our house and saw the robin again. She landed about the same distance from me as before, chortled a couple of short little chirps, and then stayed behind, watching me as I continued on my way. All at once, I knew! Robins are a sign of spring, a new beginning… hope! I thanked Mrs. Robin for the encouraging chirps. This would indeed, be a new beginning for Daisy and Holly!
When I arrived back at the house, FD was just coming outside with the apple snacks. The time was near. I quickly grabbed my camera, hoping for a few shots of the girls before they set out. I was brave and courageous. I focused on Daisy’s anxious pacing along the fence and I told myself, “This is what Daisy wants… what she needs… however it will be, she will be living as the Universe intended”.
Neither Daisy nor Holly were interested in apples this morning. Holly sniffed at the apple bits FD tossed to her, then walked away. Daisy was more interested in pulling on zippers, toggles and the hoods on our jackets. FD snapped a couple of pictures of me with Daisy, and I tried to get a few of him and Daisy but she wasn’t cooperating. We made sure her reflective collar was in place, and spoke softly and lovingly, giving her last-minute instructions. Holly stood a distance, as she always has, keeping a watchful eye on us. Soon FD’s Mom and her husband arrived. All four of us had spent the last months being very careful, living life as deer people! We had acclimated to a quiet life, not running power equipment, not making a lot of noise or moving too fast. We learned to be on the lookout for stray dogs or anything that might scare the deer. We stopped the FedEx, UPS and postal people from driving too fast down the driveway, and we kept visitors from bothering the deer. Life was about to change for all of us… back to a sense of normalcy. Finally, my friend arrived with the video camera and we all stood back from the pen – except FD.
I had pictured this moment in my mind, a dozen times. I suppose in some sense I was disappointed because it did not go as I envisioned. As FD opened the gate to the deer pen, Daisy stepped right out. Nose to the ground, she sniffed around and worked her way to a small patch of weeds. Holly panicked as FD entered the pen and tried to encourage her to move to the open gate. Seeing Daisy on the other side of the fence, yet confused and not able to find her way out, she dashed back and forth along the barrier. Only inches from escaping her confines, she seemed uncomfortable with the new escape hatch as she neared the opening. Finally, FD assisted by slowly flushing her closer to the gate, and suddenly she was free.
At first, neither deer seemed to feel the need to run. They looked around, perhaps a bit confused. Holly, seemed to look at us as if calculating her next move based on our next move. Finally, I took steps to the south, encouraging Daisy to come to me. I hoped she would slowly find her way to the woods behind our house, follow the trail to the bottom of our slope, and discover the feed and water station at the base. Daisy did come my way, but quickly realized she could trot, and there were no fences… and there was room… and her legs could RUN! She stopped a couple of times, dropped her nose to the ground to sniff, and then trotted some more, high-stepping to the trees. Holly followed, always looking back to keep an eye on us when she paused. Finally, Daisy and Holly disappeared into the woods together.
At this point, FD had positioned himself at the slope while I had been busy snapping photos (without much luck), following the deer in the path to the woods. I had the camera with the zoom lens. But the deer were too far apart to get shots of them together, and most of the time their rear ends faced me. That is the trouble photographing wildlife. It often requires timing and good luck to achieve stunning photographs. This day, both of these virtues escaped me, so I made my way toward FD at the top of the slope where he was motioning that the girls were coming around the path towards the feeding station.
Unfortunately, before I could position myself to photograph the deer approaching, I saw the red fox come around a corner. Suddenly the flash of red turned back and, though I searched fervently, I could not see the deer. I looked across the way to FD, and I could see by the look on his face that something had gone wrong. I never saw Daisy and Holly, but FD later said that seeing the fox as they came down the path had spooked them, and they had run off to a neighboring property – white tails up and bounding through the woods.
After everyone left, FD and I climbed in the Bad Boy Buggy and searched for our girls along the edge of the woods, back to the old channel of the Washita River. We didn’t figure they got that far away, but it was difficult to know. We never did see them. With the wind blowing and gusting to 30 mph, it was virtually impossible to hear anything. Camouflaged as deer are in the browns and grays of winter, it was unlikely we would spot Daisy and Holly unless they were on the move.
Realizing the futility of our search, we came back to open the deer pen and clean up the barn a bit. FD moved the deer chow to the back porch so that we could use leftover pellets at the feed/water station down below our house. I cleaned the water tub down there and filled it with fresh water.
After rearranging feed storage and moving alfalfa hay to the bottom, FD showered and was off to work. After he left, I busied myself outside, keeping an eye out just in case Daisy and Holly returned. At the deer pen, now wide open at both entries, I noted the row of spent canna’s, withered and brown alongside Daisy’s run between the two barns. All summer long the lush, tall cannas and an old mimosa tree provided shade and a hiding spot for baby Daisy during the day. I did a little more tidying up in the section of the barn where Daisy spent her nights taking refuge in a section of the old, chicken barn. There in the hay,was the spot where Daisy lay, able to look outside, yet feeling safe in her barn. Above her entry door, I found the baby brush we used to brush her hair, mimicking a mother’s licking. I remembered the dreamy look and her long lashes closing as she licked my neck and “mewed” like a kitten, every so often crying out as babies do for their mama’s. Now a blubbering mess, I closed and latched the little barn door and headed to the house.
By evening, I walked down the slope to the canyon bottom, as long, dark shadows spilled over the woodland floor. I strolled up the pathway to the top, then backtracked to check the area where FD last saw the girls bounding off. I stood there a while – hoping. I prayed for Mother Nature to look after them and give them all they would need to survive. After dark, FD went out a number of times, flashlight in hand, searching all around the house and down below, but found no sign of Daisy or Holly.
Up at 6:00 this morning, I took my time heading outside. Old Mr. Winter had come barreling into town sometime during the night, and brought his friend Arctic Blast with him. As I headed out with my 3 little Chin Charges who, by the way, wasted little time doing their duty and hurtling back into the house, I scanned the property with my flashlight. No sign of any wayward fawns. I wondered if Daisy and Holly missed their apple snacks this morning. And did Daisy miss her silly cranberry snack with FD last night? Then, a gust of icy, cold wind slapped me back to reality and, upon entering the house, I suddenly smiled, remembering how Daisy and Holly flourished on these below-freezing days. Their burly coats and thick hides protected them from the cold, and they were always frisky in the frigid, early mornings. Then I rejoiced at the thought of being a deer on my first days out in the big, exciting world; exploring and eating and looking for friends. If it were me, I would be alert, and I’d run and leap and soar with the wind! I’m sure this is how Holly must feel, finally released from the confines that helped her heal, but also kept her a prisoner for a time. How wonderful it must be to be wild once again and return to life in the woodlands and open fields.
As I write this, my heart aches. The days of sweet delight with my baby girl are but a memory. A new chapter begins for both of us. She is a young fawn, soon to be a yearling, setting out on her own. I will worry of course, and wonder about her. But this story is not about me, and never has been. Daisy brought us so much more than she ever needed from us. She left us the gift of love from the animal world. A reminder to us to take care of all living things, and to live in the moment; to cherish each day. How could I ever be selfish and want her to stay here, knowing she is ready to experience life on her own… perhaps as a mother herself one day.
Run to be wild, Daisy my love… run free.
© Day by Day the Farm Girl Way…