Summer Friendships

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.

Emma and Ronnie often mutual groom each other, caring for wounds, and removing parasites from each other.
Emma has always licked Ronnie’s wounds. Most wounds happen as a result of scraping barbed-wire fencing.

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.

There is no telling what happened to Spike’s right antler. It could be an injury where it broke off in the early stages of development, genetics, or poor diet.
Ronnie submits to Spike, leaving the feeder as Spike approaches.

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.

Spike and Ronnie after a hoofing match. I thought the body language indicated they might rise up on hind legs again, but it didn’t happen.
Evening blackberry picking.
Spike is curious about FD and me, but not scared of us. This is likely because his friends, Emma and Ronnie, remain calm in our presence.
All of the deer like to gather around the old elm tree for shade and a nibble or two of my flowers!
Emma, Ronnie, and Spike make several rounds around the yard with me in the mornings as I move water hoses.
Emma comes close to the house to have a chomp of my roses, while Spike keeps a safe distance.
Deer are generally frisky in the mornings. Here Spike takes off and Ronnie and Emma follow.
Spike leads the way running out to the pasture to feast on blackberries and wild grapes.

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…


43 thoughts on “Summer Friendships

  1. It was sad reading about your move away from the farm and all you knew but I loved how you drew the friendship theme back to the three and the timeliness of Spike’s arrival. It’ll be interesting to see how it all evolves and let’s hope there are many years to watch and learn from them. ❤

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    1. Even though we left that first farm, we still had the grandparent’s farm to roam. And that part of Nebraska is all agricultural, so we were immersed in that lifestyle.
      It will be interesting to see what the fall rut brings. I remember that first couple of years with Daisy. I saw a lot of activity in our woods, and with Miss Emma having her first rut, she’ll be much sought after. I hope she enjoys it. Ronnie is more of a worry. He’s small for a buck, and he’s always been so gentle. The rut can be brutal for bucks. At least if he gets very banged up he has a safe place to come to if he wants to.

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  2. I just wrote a long comment but it didn’t post. This is the second time this has happened. I was moved by your earlier transition from the farm and how you reflected back with Spike’s arrival. I hope they’ll be many more years and posts to follow them. Wonderful photos & vid. ❤

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    1. Someone else had this same problem on the last post. Just like with yours, all of their comments came through on this end. Everything seems fine on this end as far as I know. I may chat with WordPress tomorrow and see if they might have an explanation. Thanks for letting me know about this, Paulette.

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        1. Thanks for letting me know. I’ll be contacting WordPress this morning since this isn’t the first time I’ve been notified about comments not showing up. It’s frustrating to put time into a response and to think it could have just disappeared!

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    1. There is a bit of sad at every turn, isn’t there? I try to find the gift in it, and there is one, of course. I am thankful to be a part of this amazing journey that the deer are on… it will be interesting to see how it all unfolds.

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      1. We saw a fawn this morning on the side of the road, he watched us for a while then darted back into the corn. We fanned out and searched in case there was a mother deer in trouble or dead from the road but nothing – just a naughty wee fella wandering too far I hope. c

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        1. You did the right thing – searching to make sure a doe wasn’t in trouble or hit. We have seen a couple of Daisy’s babies go missing after observing them being naughty and wandering about. I have a feeling this one you saw was up to a little snooping around!

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  3. Lori, I enjoyed reading about some of your growing up years. It can be a difficult time in many ways as one works toward independence in adulthood. You actually had quite a lovey time growing up and written it helps mold character. It also provides one with the ability to know how to interact with all sorts of personalities.

    As you have written, animals learn from interacting with each other much in the same manner as humans. A lovey written comparison.

    The video and the pics are wonderful and I continue to get pleasure from reading about the three dear. Your observations are keen and described in an excellent manner.

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    1. Thank you, Yvonne. It is a special feeling to walk with Emma and Ronnie and watch them with Spike – interacting on a more social level. The one thing that has been apparent since the time we took Daisy in, is that all of nature – other mammals and birds, seem more relaxed around FD and me when we are with the deer. If the deer are calm, then everything else seems to relax. I believe that is why Spike doesn’t fear us so much. That and he is young too, and perhaps hasn’t developed a real fear of humans. There are so many things I do not understand, and probably never will. But I am thankful to have this opportunity to walk with the deer people.

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  4. Hi Lori, I loved the video of Emma grooming you. She was doing a thorough job. How delightful to be spending time with the 3 deer each day.
    Sometimes I am lucky enough to watch young, male kangaroos sparring. The pair stand up tall and waggle their short front legs at each other. Then they lean back on their tails which act as props and kick each other with their back feet. It can be quite an impressive display.

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    1. Mutual grooming is something the deer do from the time they are wee fawns. The mother and fawns bond this way. I also believe scent is an important aspect of it. They recognize mostly by scent. Not always are Emma and Ronnie sure it is me that is approaching, until they know my scent. It’s very obvious by watching their body language that they are unsure about me, until I hold my arm out and let them approach to sniff, and then they appear to relax and often start the mutual grooming. It’s a very special time of bonding. Emma has always groaned during the process, as if feeling a deep emotion of some sort. I can’t explain it properly… it’s a unique kind of bonding.

      How fascinating to have the opportunity to watch the kangaroos sparring! I didn’t realize the tails were used as “props” to support them during the kicking event! I hope that someday I will be able to come to your country to observe some of the wildlife. I always love hearing from folks from other parts of the world – wildlife is fascinating wherever we happen to be! Thanks for sharing your observation, Margaret!

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  5. I feel like I know you so much better after reading this post. Our backgrounds, other than living in town (which I never did until I left the farm after high school graduation), are so similar. I, too, attended vacation bible school, took swimming lessons, detasseled corn, rode bike along country roads, played primarily with my siblings, lived on the prairie, etc. No wonder I often feel such a sisterhood kinship with you.

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    1. There are so many great memories of growing up in a farming community. I think today I am even more appreciative for the simple things we grew up with. They are the same things I enjoy today. No telling how many stories we have to tell that are much alike. Someday we will have our face to face meeting and enjoy some laughs and good conversation. You are definitely a keeper… my year-around friend!

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  6. Oh my gosh! Just loved this post and the connections to your childhood and friendships! How wonderful to have your deer friends to romp with daily!!! I just loved the video with you and Emma deer!!!n So precious!!!!!!!

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    1. Oh thank you! It always makes my day that people enjoy the photos and videos. FD was a bit of a distance from me so Emma’s groaning while she mutual groomed me was barely heard on the video, but I can tell you she enjoys it so much. I can’t describe how this connection touches me. I suppose it is one of those things that can only be felt.

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      1. This is quite a revelation for me, the mutual grooming, Emma and you especially. So many wonders in nature! Each day I seem to learn more. Now that I am an old guy no longer needed at work. I can’t

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        1. have experiences like this because I live in a city, but I have time to read and study images and generally reflect on the mysteries of all life. Its beauties especially, but also it’s rituals and challenges. Your writings here, along with the visuals–well, it’s hard to explain how much that expands my view. I am continually amazed at the enrichment available through projects like yours and a few others. I’m grateful too. This kind of reading is so much more valuable than newspapers (for me) and most magazines. Down to earth persons with real stories. It’s a way of communicating that I could never have imagined not so long ago. I’m so glad that you put time into this. A great reminder of another kind of mutual grooming (in spite of vast differences and separate lives ) that all persons could all be open to and benefit from.

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  7. Lori, I’m so glad to see that Ronnie’s antlers have both grown in! They really are quite lovely in this downy stage. This post also reads like a chapter for your book. So wonderful how you’ve linked childhood friendships with the deer to your own experience with both human and animal relationships.

    And, I’m glad to call you a friend. You enrich my life with your words.

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    1. Oh, thank you, Lynda! We were happy to see that no damage came to that one antler of Ronnie’s, after last summer’s fiasco.
      So many times I think of you and I as children. We would have had such wonderful memories together… and maybe I would have learned to sew! ha ha. I often think of that week I spent with you. I completely felt at home. I am so thankful we found each other. 🙂
      That book… started and sitting, but I understand why it is taking time. I am still evolving in other areas.

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      1. We missed out on being friends in our childhood, but at least we didn’t miss out altogether! We will visit again when the time is right. It is all about timing isn’t it? Your book will be done in it’s own time too.

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  8. I have a pair of pigeons hanging around who will spend hours grooming one another. It’s interesting to watch, and even more interesting now that I have your deer as a comparison.

    I smiled at your mention of Interstate 80. I grew up to the east of you in Iowa, in a home that was only a couple of miles from I-80. Our new subdivision wasn’t very developed, and there was mostly corn between us and the interstate, so sound carried. I spent many an evening sitting on the front steps, listening to the traffic and developing a bit of wanderlust. I suspect I’m enough older than you that our experiences weren’t taking place at the same time, but it’s still fun to think that the same highway connected us in that way.

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    1. I have watched fox squirrels mutual groom each other too. It’s interesting to note how important this is especially in healing wounds and taking care to remove parasites.

      My goodness, we didn’t grow up so very far apart, and we knew the corn crop well! Ha ha! I actually remember our family taking Sunday drives to watch the construction progress of I-80. Dad and Mom loaded us kids up in the car and from Lincoln to York, NE we checked various points every couple of months. I read it officially opened statewide in NE in 1974. I would have been thirteen that year.

      I often think of the connections I have with people when I look up at the stars at night. You and I are still only about eight hours driving distance from each other. We are still Midwestern girls. 🙂

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    2. Well this is fun to know! I will be traveling on I80 in a couple of weeks from Davenport to Des Moines. I know where Lori was along that route, but where were you, Linda?

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      1. Ah! here you are. I knew you had commented about this somewhere, but I couldn’t find it. Here’s a map showing where our house was. There was one more street between us and the corn fields, but that was it. After I-80 opened (yes, I remember a time before the interstate!) I swore I was going to go “somewhere” on it. I certainly did.

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    1. Ah, yes, Ardys… we are always learning. I have not been out so much with the camera. The temperatures have reached the triple digit mark, and the humidity has been awful. I don’t know how the wildlife manages!

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  9. So many parallels in nature. Watching childhoods so much the same.
    Lovely story and musings (and here’s a chapter for your book already written…it’s a book musing of the societies of humans and deer (who have more truth and manners), right?
    Gold star thoughts and post

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    1. Oh, thank you!! I have to agree with you… those deer have been some of the best friends I’ve ever had. However, their wayward ways puzzle me at times… they forget I only have two legs and I can’t run nor leap that fast!! They often take off without me! 😀

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  10. Wow, that video of Emma grooming you was awesome. I have never had one of our “kids” (deer) come quite that close, although we used to have a fawn that began coming to our feeding when very young. We named him Friendly, and in time he became “Sir” Friendly because he became a big, beautiful buck. He loved watermelon and would take it from my hand. Other deer would watch him and see how he wasn’t afraid of me, and that enticed them to lose some of their skittishness. By the way, we also had one we named Spike… for the same reason. Loved this story.

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    1. Sir Friendly sounds wonderful. These special friendships come and go.. all special! What you say about other deer not being afraid having seen your deer comfortable with you is what we experience here too. Even the other mammals and birds seem calmer when we are present, when the deer show no fear. I think that is why my time working in the orchard with Emma and Ronnie so near, allows me to see more of the wildlife in the area. They’re curious about the relationship of the deer and this human.

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  11. I tried to post today but it wouldn’t go on your blog entry dated today. So I’m trying another way to get through. If you have a minute, can you check your SPAM to see if I landed there? And if so, maybe next time you stop by my site, lemme know? Sorry for any inconvenience but I wanted you to get my comment.

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