Though sunny weather was forecast, my Memorial Day weekend plans did not include picnics or fishing. Yard chores and planting the garden was my fate. Pulling in the driveway, I saw my neighbor had cut his first crop of hay. That aroma reminded me of the plethora of sights and smells that make this month of rebirth such a joy, and how much even we humans live with the rhythm of the seasons.
Just after supper as I walked towards the garden, I saw a deer in the field. With deer so plentiful, I never gave it a second look. Finishing my task an hour later, I saw the deer had not moved. Then I knew.
Rising just after dawn, the deer was my first thought. I went to an upstairs window hoping for an empty field. That hope was dashed when I saw a deer walking close to where I’d seen it the evening before. I watched the doe walk through the field searching until I couldn’t watch anymore, so I distracted myself with breakfast.
Working around the yard, I paused often to look in the field. Each time there she was. Though often in the area I’d first seen her, she also walked the perimeter and through the field searching and I surmised, hoping.
I was still hoping, too, when about 1 p.m. an eagle circled twice and glided to landing 10 yards from the doe. It took a couple of short hops and began feeding. The doe looked on as the eagle feasted. There was no denying my own sadness. The eagle fed for a bit and took wing. The doe approached with her head low. And there she stood.
As dark crept over the field, she remained near where the eagle had fed. Call it instinct. Dedication. Love. Whatever it was, it was something to behold. A restless night of sleep followed.
In the morning I rose and headed for the window. I saw a large animal I thought at first glance was a wolf. Instead it was a big coyote enjoying the spoils. The doe was standing 30 yards away. She sidled in until finally the coyote would have no more. It feigned a charge which sent the doe running. It returned to feed for another five minutes before racing towards the woods. The doe made her way back and there she stood.
That evening I helped my wife prepare a new flower bed. Carrying weeds and sticks to the corner of our yard, I saw a deer 20 yards away in the field through a gap in two spruce trees. Our eyes locked. I still recall what I saw in those eyes. It was sadness.
Was it just the doe’s, or a reflection of mine? I’m not sure. I tossed my load under the spruce. The doe never moved. I dropped my eyes, turned, walked away and never looked back.
Darkness mercifully came. That evening I realized I knew better what Aldo Leopold meant when he wrote, “For one species to mourn the death of another is a new thing under the sun.” I dozed off and slept like a rock.
The next morning the doe was gone. At noon the farmer baled the hay. The curtain had fallen on this play, the stage was cleared and the actors left. In my memory I would save the ticket stub from this weekend with the doe, in which I learned more not only about the nature of animals, but humans as well.