Late last March an emaciated doe appeared around the house even before the snow was gone. Although I am used to having wild animals visit I was bewildered; this deer seemed too tame. I could get within a couple of feet of her while talking to her softly.
Every morning there she was standing at the front door nipping twigs from the crabapple tree when I let the dogs out before dawn. I could see where she was spending the night curled into last year’s fallen leaves, just outside my bedroom window. I named her Red Deer because of her pitiful rusty red coat. It wasn’t long before the first emerald shoots appeared in my flower garden. Red Deer feasted indiscriminately denuding all the plants. Initially annoyed, my increasing concern for the emaciated deer’s welfare eventually allowed me to let go of my flowers – after all, the garden was perennial and all these plants would return next year. The doe was so listless that I thought she might be dying…. I didn’t realize it at the time but I was taking the long view and incorporating it into the present.
Spring was stunning except for my garden! Best of all, Red Deer began to fill out. By May she had become a robust animal with a shimmering red coat that shone deep autumn gold in the morning sun. I had made the right choice!
Whenever I was outside Red Deer would appear. If I sat in my chair in the field she would materialize out of the pines and come within a few feet of me. I was confident that she knew how much I cared about her…She stared into my eyes with an intensity that made me wonder what she could possibly be thinking -those obsidian reflective pools of light… She followed me around the house like a dog. I met her in the evenings at dusk. She appeared at the bedroom window before dawn, challenging Hope the leader of a dog pack of two to bark when only a screen separated the two (both my little dogs had been taught not to bark at wild animals).
Towards the end of May Red Deer moved her bed down the hill into the fragrant lemony – lime hay ferns, but still spent her days and nights (judging by the state of my garden) around the house. I talked to her every time I saw her and noticed that like other wild animals this deer seemed soothed by the sound of my voice. If there was a sudden volley of gunshots from the neighboring idiots I could always calm her. In 40 years I have never had a deer adopt me like this one did.
Red Deer might have divested me of my most favorite flowers but she was thriving, and I was at peace.
One day in mid June I glimpsed a vision that stunned me. The most beautiful fawn barely able to stand, was struggling to walk up the hill. I caught my first picture of this speckled wonder even as Red Deer materialized out of the now thick greenery that characterized the whole area above the brook. She quickly took the lead and the two disappeared around the side of the house to feast on more anemones. I stayed indoors and watched them from the window thinking I might frighten the fawn.
Later that afternoon the dogs and I met the two as we walked up to the driveway. We all stopped and stared. In a soft voice I welcomed “Little Deer” spontaneously, using the Indigenous name that I had been given long ago. Both deer veered a little to the left allowing us to pass. Neither bolted.
This first meeting was followed by others, every day, all summer long. I had two tame deer that appeared out of the green whenever they chose. As fall approached I began to feel uneasy. These two were so trusting that I worried that they might easily be shot if either left this protected space.
Now it is late October, less than two weeks from hunting season. During the last month all the crabapples have been falling just outside my front door. Every morning I do a ‘sweep’ raking the day’s apples away from the door and piling them under the tree. This tree first housed the phoebe family and then twittered all summer with a hundred hummingbirds, as well as becoming a Monarch’s bower as a butterfly emerged from its chrysalis. Now this ‘tree of life’ is feeding the deer…
We have had many hard frosts. Temperatures in the low twenties sweeten the apples so a week or two ago I wasn’t surprised to meet Little Deer at my front door followed by his mother. There are literally about a thousand apples to eat, so my guess is that they will be around for a while – my hope is that Red Deer will not stray far during hunting season, although she is once again ready to mate.
I have become so attached to these two non – human friends that it’s hard for me to think about letting them go…
Even if Little Deer stays close by during the hunt it is unlikely that Red Deer will.
Change is the only constant, I keep reminding myself.
My Indigenous name, “Little Deer” has poignant associations with my dead brother and my youngest son who loved his uncle’s deerskin jacket and slept with it as a child. After receiving my name reluctantly (another story) I learned about the Cherokee myth of Little Deer. In this tale whenever any wild creature needed help, a song was sung and Little Deer appeared out of the mountain to advocate for that animal’s life; he also advocated for the lives of all his relatives. I used to fantasize that he also advocated for me. The animals called him a ‘justice maker’.
By this time I had developed very personal relationships with the deer that lived around me and was giving Native American programs in the schools. Amazing experiences with deer permeated my life. Thirty years passed before Lyme ticks appeared. I had dogs to think about as well as myself. I stopped feeding the deer. My relationship with the mythical Little Deer receded, although as a fierce naturalist and writer I continued to advocate for all animals and plants.
Until this year. The sudden appearance of Red Deer changed everything. I surrendered my garden to her, worried about her health, experienced such joy when she appeared with her little son.
Little Deer came to life in me as an advocate for Red and Little Deer’s life. Fearing that my help will not be enough I am once again singing the little song the animals use to call in the Spirit of Little Deer to intervene in the lives of both these animals – a mother and her son…
“From out of the mountain he comes…”
The Good Mother lives on…
BIO: Sara Wright is a naturalist, ethologist (a person who studies animals in their natural habitats) (former) Jungian Pattern Analyst, and a writer. She publishes her work regularly in a number of different venues and is presently living in Maine.
4 thoughts on “Little Deer Comes to Life – A ‘Good Mother’ Story by Sara Wright”
Two beautiful and meaningful stories – the Cherokee story of Little Deer and your own of your relationship to Red Deer and Little Deer. I do think that non-human beings know who cares for them and is an advocate and who isn’t. Yours is an amazing and wonderful story of trust and reaching out by Red and Little Deer and your responding in a positive way we should all emulate.
I can promise you that ALL animals and the rest of nature are ready to befriends us… they KNOW if we care. It takes time (usually) and patience to develop these relationships that can end up becoming incredibly intimate…
Now that hunting season is underway Little Deer comes alone…..I am hopeful that his mom will make it but I do not know…
To protect a deer from hunters, have you considered dressing/decorating her in some conspicuous way, that can be seen from afar by hunters, who might hopefully assume that this particular deer is someone’s pet?
Not here – hunters kill for the fun of it and I have neighbors who would love to slaughter these two. Killing is what we do in Maine.