I grew worried this morning when I had not spotted Daisy deer by 11:00. It was disconcerting enough that after both Daisy, an orphaned fawn, and Holly, a rehabilitated, injured yearling, took off together last Friday, only Daisy returned on Sunday. What was even worse, was the evidence I discovered today as I searched for Daisy in the immediate area. I found deer tracks… and large dog tracks… together.
Daisy had been sticking around our house since Sunday. Most of the time she was in her pen, especially at night. During the day she grazed around the yard, over at FD’s mother’s house, and all along the line of my rose bushes. Did I mention rose leaves and petals are one of her favorite snacks? She found a couple of cozy spots to nap and take refuge in during the day, on hills near the house. She grazed in the woods sometimes. I walked with her in the woods since she seemed to enjoy my company. To me, she appeared to be missing her friend, Holly. Daisy did not seem as confident as she had been when she was with Holly. Likely, they got separated during the high winds Saturday night. Perhaps something spooked them and they lost scent or could not hear so well. Regardless, after a few days it appeared Holly would not be returning.
The last time I saw Daisy was around 7:30 yesterday evening. The rain was pouring down outside, and there she lay in her pen, head up, braving the torrent of water. I had been carrying a bit of a sleep deficit and felt it would be a good night to turn in early. When the rain let up for a moment, I let the dogs out. I noticed Daisy did not get up. I decided not to disturb her and forego the usual cranberry snack. FD had started this crazy ritual long ago, and when he wasn’t here, I usually kept the tradition. But tonight, it was wet and cold and I felt it unkind to bother her.
After not seeing Daisy by 11:00 this morning , I decided to head out and look around the property to see if I could find her. I wasn’t worried until I saw tracks in the canyon, headed up a path we use to haul wood to the burn pile. That is when I saw huge dog paw prints. They had been made after the rain and were not smoothed out as they would have been if imprinted before the heavy rain. More disconcerting, was finding that the canine prints were next to the deep and definite deer hoof prints. They were the size of Daisy’s hooves, and they looked to be from a chase, since the cloven hooves were splayed apart from pressure and the dew claws left an impression along with the “toe” prints. Upon making this discovery, I tried to remain calm, but my heart was racing and my gut was tight.
So, I continued to follow the tracks. In some places they were evident, and in other areas I really had to look hard to find an impression. I was finally able to follow a path of prints up top to our lateral lines. Across that path, I saw deer prints dug into the Bermuda grass. Long strides took me close to Daisy’s pen but veered just along side it, behind FD’s mother’s house. From there they skidded sideways to our driveway, and around to the rose bushes lining the driveway. I lost site of the deer prints but found muddy dog prints headed down to the slope. At the top of the slope, both deer and dog prints made a trail all the way down the slope and under a barbed wire fence to the neighboring pecan orchard. Just beyond the rusty, barbed fencing lay Daisy’s reflective collar.
At this point I knew she’d made it under the fence where she appeared to have caught her collar. The collar had a small rip at the top, and with the rain affecting the velcro’s ability to hold strong, it had likely ripped loose on the barb-wire fence. I saw no sign of a struggle on the ground, so I knew Daisy must have pushed forth into the wide-open grasslands, or maybe followed the treeline to safety, closer to the river bottom. I kept reminding myself that a deer could run much faster than a dog or a coyote. But my psyche kept nagging at me. Daisy had not been out much. Would she know the area well enough to know where to run? Was she so robust that she tired easily and could not run long to safety? I pushed to the west. I did not see cloven hoof prints, but I picked up the large paw prints of the canine along an animal trail.
The blustery, overcast day did not brighten my spirits much. I slowly walked the animal path, tracking the large dog prints that appeared regularly. Smaller prints of a cat or a fox dotted the path as well. Some critter with longer claws left markings that sliced into the mud; perhaps a raccoon. At a small waterway, a dismal sight came into view. Bones of a cow or steer lay in a watery grave. A little further on I happened on more bones; the leg of a younger fawn, maybe 3 months old. The little hoof was still intact. Beyond that, I found hair from a deer hide. The hair lay in clumps on the ground. Before long, birds or some small mammal will likely use it for lining a nest or a burrow. These discoveries only added to my heavy heart. Still, I plodded on.
Down the trail I followed an animal path that ran along the same fence line Daisy originally ducked under when she left our property; only I was quite a distance from there by now. It was a well-traveled path by the looks of things. At one point a strong odor of skunk hit my nostrils. Looking around in a panic, I got off the path and headed up to a knoll looking out towards the river about a half mile away. I would never find my baby girl if she had ventured out there. FD was familiar with the river in that area, but I was not. I had been to another part of the river to hunt morel mushrooms one time and had gotten separated from FD. I was lost. It was a frightening feeling! Just as I headed down from the hill and away from the skunk aroma, I slipped on the red clay soil and panicked again! Somehow I managed to keep from falling but my heart was hammering by now. All I could think of was falling in the red, clay soil and never getting the stain out of my clothes!
I took firm steps now, focusing on a watershed area just ahead. FD and I had walked this way last week after Daisy and Holly had been released, but had not returned for several days. It was during that walk with FD that I realized the beauty of the woods, and the reason Daisy and Holly might not wish to return to our property. It was breathtakingly beautiful, even in the winter. Taking in the beauty of the landscape now, I was beginning to calm down from my near fall, when I saw her! Still a bit damp in the neck from the rains, and sporting muddy hooves with a few streaks of something green on her legs, there stood my girl, not 20 feet away, chewing on a bit of lush, green grass. She continued to move along slowly, grazing like a cow. Occasionally, she lifted her head in an alert manner, always cautious, but for the most part she seemed unhurried and content to be alone. I spoke gently to her, chiding her for making me worry so, then told her I was heading back and asked if she would join me? She did.
Back at the pen, I filled her bucket with feed and I dashed inside to fetch my camera. When I returned, she was gone again. I looked in all of the usual places, then walked a short distance looking for her, but gave up quickly. I was too tired to proceed any longer. A few hours later I found her on a hill in our canyon, looking out over the canyon floor. I didn’t bother her, for she looked tired. I took a picture and made my way back to the house.
For a long time I thought about my day. The worry that prompted the investigation of the mysterious deer and dog tracks needed to happen for my own good. It was to help me understand that Daisy’s instinct is strong, and her survival skills are better than I gave her credit for. She had fared just fine through a driving rainstorm and managing to flee danger, all without my help, or the company of Holly. She found her way to safety and peaceful grazing. It did me good to see her comfortable, so far away from her home. Her world will always worry me I suppose, and that is because I am thinking like a human. I would do well to heed my own advice, given here in my blog so many times; animals and nature teach us much about living in the moment. Perhaps it is time I quit investigating all of the mysteries and stop going down trails of the past. Daisy’s final gift to me may very well be, “Live in the moment, and be free!”
© Day by Day the Farm Girl Way…