I was up early this morning. For many weeks, I have been restless at night, awakening every hour or two, often managing my day without more than four or five hours of sleep. The autumn time change only added to the problem. Often, I just get up and quietly get started with my day. It’s the perfect opportunity to catch up on a little computer work, reading, and if I have a story formulating in my head, I write.
Last Saturday, Forrest and I were both up early. He had rented a U-haul trailer to take furniture and household goods to Lubbock, Texas, to help a great-niece get set up in her first apartment. Having acquired Forrest’s grandparent’s antique furniture after his mother’s passing, we decided to share most of it with family. As soon as he took off down the road, I got busy with my usual morning chores and daily tasks. By afternoon I decided to get cleaned up and forego my earlier plan to chainsaw tree limbs from the ice storm and get the burn pile going. It was the weekend. Forrest would return tomorrow. Why shouldn’t I kick back for the rest of the day?
But I never really just “kicked back”. Instead, I worked on a few cleaning tasks in the house, and did a bit of ironing while watching a movie. My ironing board is set up at sliding glass doors where I can look out to the woods beyond the back porch. As soon as I completed the ironing and finished the movie, I went out to fill the wildlife feeders and water tub down in the canyon. I had about an hour of daylight left, and I still needed to feed the fawns and get the chickens shut in for the night.
I had no more than carried two five-gallon buckets of deer feed down the slope, when I sensed something watching me. There was Tukker, walking slowly toward the feeders, nose to the ground. We had been seeing him most evenings. I assumed he was after his usual apple and carrot snack, but he walked past me, lingering and sniffing a couple of times on a tall weed. He bypassed the feeders and walked on towards a small knoll just a short distance away. I abandoned my buckets and followed.
Tukker climbed the hill near the gully where we burn brush. I did not follow the steep route he took, but walked around the burn area, taking an easier path to the knoll. So many times I marveled at how efficient those deer hooves were, capable of quiet travel to places a human’s big feet could not as easily manage.
After nibbling honeysuckle and having a few hard sniffs up the length of a couple of dried weeds, Tukker folded his legs and plopped down to rest in front of me. I did the same. There was to be no mutual grooming, and gentle talking did not seem appropriate. Instead, we both sat quietly, sometimes gazing at each other, and sometimes looking out in the distance, I, with my own thoughts and he, I assumed, with his. Eventually, Tukker dozed for short periods, and once, actually slipped into rapid-eye-movement (REM) sleep. In all of the years we have rehabilitated wildlife, I have never observed REM sleep in a mammal.
After a few minutes of this hard sleep, Tukker’s eyes opened quickly at the sound of a squirrel scampering across dried leaves nearby. My cell phone indicated that forty minutes had passed since Tukker and I began our rest at the knoll, and I noted darkness was ebbing in. I stood up to photograph Tukker and speak to him gently before I ambled back down the knoll the way I had come. I finished filling the wildlife feeders, and moved on to setting the fawns up for the night and closing the chicken barn before complete darkness cloaked the earth. When these chores were complete, I returned to the knoll, but Tukker had disappeared into the night.
I have not seen Tukker in the week that has passed. In fact, the only deer we have observed lately have been fawns who appear to be alone in the nighttime hours. Perhaps their mothers are off taking part in rutting activity. I have also noticed the feeders are not being used as much. The rut, or breeding season, is an exciting and yet dangerous time for deer. Bucks especially, face injury and even death when engaging in sparring and antler fights to establish dominance or claim a doe. Both does and bucks often run blindly in the chase. Fawns may try to follow their mothers, finding themselves in unfamiliar places, and sometimes fall prey to predators. We have witnessed all of these things over the years we’ve cared for deer. It’s fascinating, and yet sometimes tragic.
I sat on the knoll for a while yesterday under overcast skies, while a gentle breeze stirred leaves around me. The earth felt warm under my legs, and for a long time I sat still, with not a thought in my head. This was the knoll where Daisy deer often rested with her fawns, where Emma and Ronnie ruminated, and where I many times found Ronnie resting just before his first rut. Tukker too, had shown me how sacred this place is, and how to be watchful, safe, and quiet from this perch above the canyon. I thanked Universe and all the deer I have loved and spent time with, for taking me to this place and leading me down the path of living in the moment, and finding freedom in just… being.
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