When I was eight years old, my folks bought a small house on the outskirts of town. They had been renting farm land for many years but, one day out of the blue, the land owner decided to burn all his buildings on the property and lease the whole thing out to a company that put up some kind of huge transmission tower. Dad could still do farming for my grandparents, but he would also have to work a job in town. So, it was a practical move to buy a small house where he could be near his day job, but still within close driving distance to his parent’s farm. Moving to town was exciting for us kids. At our new home, we would be walking-distance from the parochial school we attended. We would have pavement to ride our bicycles on and a community swimming pool at which to spend our summer afternoons. Living in town was sure to open up our social lives as well, and I imagine my mother enjoyed some mighty quiet afternoons while we were off riding bikes or swimming.
Most of my school friends were farm people, so I did not see much of them until school was back in session. I did have a couple of friends who lived in the same town, but their interests were different and we did not see much of each other during the summer break. I was happy to spend most of my summer days with my brother and three sisters. We spent lots of time at the pool working on our tans, practicing diving, and honing perfection in form and speed on our swim strokes. We took off on our bikes about once a week during the summer months, riding miles out into the country. Many times, we ventured five miles out to Interstate 80 to sit on the overpass and watch the cars file by below us. Of course, as we biked out to whatever destination, it was competition the whole way – who was faster and could get there first. And it sure was a tiring trip peddling back to town, but there was pipe irrigation back in those days, so we could stop to cool ourselves in the water on the way home.
Every summer as a child, I could count on having one or two new friendships. Either swimming lessons brought someone new to the pool, or the summer bible school we attended included a new kid who was visiting his grandparents or some other family member. Some of those friendships were rekindled each year at the pool or at the church. For summer jobs as we got older, my siblings and I worked at rouging and detasseling in the corn fields. Kids from other towns often signed on to this type of work as well, and we made new friendships visiting with each other as we moved along the rows while out in the fields. But the best conversations were made on the field bus while we enjoyed our sack lunches, and also as we had a few laughs on the bus ride home. But those friendships were only for that stint at work. We never saw the same people in the fields from year to year. Then, one year, I signed up for a pen pal through one of my mom’s magazine subscriptions. Kim was from Flint Michigan and that first summer of correspondence was really exciting! Her city life was very different from my country bumpkin life. As time went on though, I could see that, because our lives were so different, the friendship was probably not going to last. But the best summer friendship I remember, was the summer that I turned fifteen. That summer, I fell in love with a boy I had been friends with since second grade. I waited each day that summer, for him to rev his engine as he drove past our home. That whole summer my activities seemed to revolve around running into him, just by accident of course.
A few weeks ago, FD and I noticed a yearling buck had been following Emma and Ronnie around. We named him Spike, as he had only one tall antler on his left side (which has recently forked), while the other is a simple one-inch nub. Likely, Spike’s mother had run him off just before she got ready to have this year’s fawns. We had seen Daisy do this with her first fawn Spirit. A mother doe does not allow her offspring from the year before to be around the new fawns until they are a couple of months old. We felt this was a good thing that nature had provided another deer of Emma and Ronnie’s age so that they could be part of a small herd, interacting and developing a more normal deer lifestyle.
Spike was curious about FD and me in the beginning, and kept his distance. Any sudden move by us and he would run off to the woods. But after watching Emma and Ronnie approach us each morning and evening, he seemed more relaxed with our presence after a time. Emma was generally the leader when they set off as a group. And I could almost sense that Emma was showing off a bit. She often led him past the neighbor’s fence, where she continued on towards my mother-in-law’s grapevine and peach tree in search of any ripe or fallen fruit. As Emma passed nearby, our neighbor’s three large dogs began barking once they spotted her and Ronnie, and Spike ran back to the slope, huffing in alarm! Emma, used to the surly beasts, sauntered on to the grapes and peaches with Ronnie walking calmly behind her. Spike would wait on the edge of the slope until he saw Emma and Ronnie come back, often by way of the deer pen. That was another area Spike refused to enter. No wild deer would enter into a closed-in area like the deer pen but, because Emma and Ronnie were raised in the pen, they occasionally return to nibble on chicory, lambs quarter, and clover that still grows in their old stomping grounds.
Mornings find the trio around fairly early, for corn and feed down below the slope. During the daytime hours, they saunter out to the pecan orchard and beyond, grazing and bedding down during the heat of the day. We know they have ventured on to the west towards the river, as we have spotted them on game camera video. Most evenings, as the sun begins to slip behind the woodland trees and cool shade takes over the yard, the three return to the feeder and yard to escape the biting horse flies and deer flies. FD and I generally have a walk around the place with them, gathering a few cherry tomatoes for Emma to eat, and plucking a few of the blackberries located too high for Emma and Ronnie to reach. Spike remains curious and gets close, but if you look at him too long or open your mouth (human teeth must be intimidating), he runs off a safe distance away.
While it seems to be a friendly relationship for the most part, I have witnessed a few hoofing matches between Spike and Ronnie. This morning, such a test of dominance took place about thirty feet from me. Ronnie initiated the sparring session by raising up on his hind legs and clobbering Spike across the neck and possibly his nose, since Spike snorted hard a couple of times before both bucks simultaneously raised up and began hoofing each other in earnest. Spike’s eyes narrowed to slits as he pummeled Ronnie, and all that could be heard were loud thuds from both deer going at each other furiously. It took only seconds I am sure but, for this deer mother, it felt like an eternity. Ronnie lowered first and turned to walk away. He moved his head side to side as if he had his bell rung. Still charged up from the display, Spike began a more playful zigzagging around Ronnie, but it was clear Ronnie needed to recuperate. Emma and I stood along the garden fence – two girls watching an act we did not quite understand. Eventually, Ronnie regained his senses by walking it off, Spike nibbled at blackberries, and Emma followed me around the flower beds before all three of them set off to the orchard.
I have also observed Emma’s dominance over Ronnie become challenged lately. Emma has always given Ronnie a hoof on the back as if to let him know she is in charge. While she is also good to mutual groom him, especially if he has a scrape or wound that needs care, she occasionally sends him packing with a swift hoof to the neck or back when she is done with him. Recently, however, I have seen Ronnie take a cheap shot or two at Emma and then back off. He seems to be testing the waters, and I cannot help but wonder if it has something to do with the challenges he has had with Spike lately, and maybe he is finding his place in the “pecking order” of this little herd. I see this type of challenge constantly in nature. And of course, we humans have our own experiences and struggles with it.
It is the memories of my childhood summer friendships that come to mind as I observe these three yearlings setting off each day. Friendships are how we develop social skills, and how we discover more about others, and about ourselves. Some friendships are joyful and easy-going. These are the relationships in which we find encouragement and deep understanding. Others are a challenge, with purpose and difficulty, but if we think about it, those are the friendships that bring the most growth. Spike and Ronnie will continue to spar and fight, and as the rut approaches it will get even more aggressive and brutal. Yet they may be the same two bucks throughout life, that find camaraderie with each other after the rut season. Emma will grow weary of being chased by both of them, and probably countless other bucks during the rut. But I also believe she will enjoy it. These early days of interaction with other deer are important for their growth and survival, and I am thankful that Spike arrived when he did. Even though it is sometimes difficult to watch aggressive interaction, I know that this friendship is crucial to both Ronnie and Emma’s skill building and overall development.
In a way, Spike has helped me see the benefit of some of my own difficult friendships. Had it not been for some “hoofing matches” and sparring, I might not have risen up from a place of emotional pain and hurt. And Ronnie has shown me that it is just fine to back off and recuperate – and to become a gentle giant along the way. And Emma, who is wayward and persistent (much like Daisy deer), has also shown me the value of independence and standing my ground, along with deep affection and abiding devotion. Every friendship we have is important… and I am enjoying all of my summer friends this year!
© 2017 Day by Day the Farm Girl Way…