She was one of many. Therefore, she was not a standout so far. I had moved on to other interests, and though I certainly cared, I viewed her as more of a nuisance than a desirable in my yard. She was a large doe. Her beauty was undeniable, and I cared about her, but I was distracted by other interests and responsibilities.
Caring for my chickens and feeding the various types of wild birds had become my priorities. I barely had time to notice her. Because I had not been involved, I had no idea how many seasons she had been there.
I noticed her above the others in the group the winter of 2019 – 2020. She was always there and because she traveled with last year’s fawn, I started to notice. Her fawn was a standout because it had markedly black-tipped ears compared to the other fawns that traveled with their mothers.
Mother deer began to get my attention partly because she stood close by me hoping for a handout of bird seed, yet maintaining her distance, which I respected. She had a unique manner of staring me down that was hers alone. I admit I was frustrated, in part, because I did not have time to change my ways to adjust to hers or to correct the problem that she and her kind presented to my objectives.
Most of my frustrations resulted from her and her friends rushing in to clean out my bird feeders and the bird seed that I had sprinkled almost as soon as I filled the feeders or sprinkled the seed. As winter progressed, the feeders hung lower as the snow became deeper, which made it easier for mother deer and her cronies to lap up the bird seed.
At the crack of dawn, I would sneak out as quietly as I could, hoping that the mother deer and her friends would not hear me as I shoveled snow to clear a spot to sprinkle seed and fill feeders, but to no avail. Often, the deer hung out at the tree line and by the time I had gone inside, taken off my coat and boots, and sat down to begin a painting project or get ready for work, the deer had rushed in competing with each other to get first dibs on the seed.
I could not help but chuckle once or twice when mother deer raided one of the feeder containers that sat on the deck before I even had a chance to put the seed in a feeder or sprinkle it. I did admire her resourcefulness. She certainly seemed to feel at home in our yard.
My objective was to feed and attract grouse who also attended at daybreak but were likely to find themselves sharing space and seed with multiple deer. Eventually, the deer discouraged the grouse from attending.
I plotted against the deer, considering how I might discourage them from attending, but to no avail. I even became a female version of Elmer Fudd (with no doubt some hilarity) plotting and hoping for a plan that suited my agenda, but with no success.
I had been known to throw a fit in the yard and throw empty milk jugs and seed containers around, and to call the deer names. They did not seem to care. Mother deer did not care either. There are no witnesses, except the deer and the grouse, and “they” are not talking. There were times that I felt so frustrated that I came close to being reduced to a raving lunatic (not quite, but it makes for a good story)!
My sister-in-law Cindy was enthralled with the deer when she visited. Cindy had not seen the big picture of what was really going on. She advised me to speak quietly as we sat near my large picture window, enjoying the view, and whispered to be careful not to scare the deer. I smiled, complied quietly, and replied that neither of us could scare those deer away if we wanted to.
After analyzing the situation, I think that I may have come up with a solution for the next winter season. Last winter, I had aborted sprinkling seed where I normally sprinkled it on the worn path. Instead, I sprinkled within and amongst the dense underbrush of my lilac bush. That seemed to work, the grouse began to attend, and the deer were not as able to eat all the seed. The plan for next winter is to take the feeding to an even higher level to perhaps the perfect place.
I have concluded that I am at my best and happiest with myself and the feeding situation when I am able to come up with a plan that accommodates all creatures in my yard, no matter what that schedule or plan may become. Ideally, that would mean that I am able to keep the deer from my bird feeders and be able to take the time to walk to feed the deer a quarter of a mile away in the cedar swamp.
The winter of 2019 – 2020 seemed to be challenging for the deer in that the snow was deep. This made it more difficult for the deer to find food. Feeding time for the deer was late evening or afternoon. Mother deer attended and made herself visible (in my face) as usual. Many of the deer became thin.
As a result of feeding the deer and observing them at bird feeders, I have pondered the fact that the deer and I have grown up under a completely different set of rules. The deer do not have an agenda, hobbies, and never learned to share.
Though their babies still travel with them, they will soundly trounce their babies with their front hooves to ensure they has first access to the food source. If the deer do have an agenda, the agenda is to survive. The deer eat when food is available, will attend when it is available, but that is all a schedule means to them.
I have observed that when the deer’s basic needs are met, they do seem able to stop and smell the roses more so than I. In fact, they even eat them! The cosmos that is trying to grow in my yard, which started early inside from seed, have been trimmed, regrew, and trimmed again by something. That sometimes drives me crazy!
The deer do not have the luxury to call 911 for medical, police or fire assistance. They are completely on their own. These services have become so available that some of us take them for granted. We need to appreciate those who do a great and conscientious job…no matter what their vocation is. Good is almost always there if we are looking for it. It is disheartening to put your very soul into your work to find yourself lumped with the bad apples that may also be there.
The winter progressed for the deer and me. The deer were fed on a schedule that I set—that is, to their advantage in that they know when to show up to eat if they are in need. Mother deer attended with last year’s fawn and stood close, yet maintained her distance as usual.
Throughout the winter, my dog Shakira and I walked the small circle around my outer driveway together, so she could relieve herself (unleashed) within 20 feet or less from mother deer and her friends. I never worry about my dog hurting the deer. She does make a move that is feigning play-like.
I worry far more that a deer might hurt her than fear the dog would hurt the deer. She is old now, but she has been that way for many years. I did not teach her to not harm the deer. I mainly told her to be “nice” and she was. I am not a dog whisperer, but I think I might be on my way to become a deer whisperer.
I was so sad the day the deer feed ran out permanently for the season, since it was best for the deer to return to the wild and their wilder ways, that I had difficulty speaking. I struggled to get out any conversation at all. I had to turn and walk away from the small herd of gaunt-looking deer, who were expecting their evening feeding, which they did not receive. It did not mean that I did not care because I did. The opposite was true. I cared deeply enough to do that.
The deer, my dog and I grew to know each other and what to expect from each other (even if, for me, that meant occasionally acting like Elmer Fudd). Mother deer and I had developed a relationship. It was a relationship that was based upon some trust and give and take. That meant that mother deer did a lot of taking and I did a lot of giving.
Mother deer fed from my bird feeders, cropped my flowers, and ate the deer feed I provided. Early winter mornings mother deer gave me the reminder that it might be time to get my blood pressure checked. She also provided me the pleasure of her company and the comfort of knowing that if I walked outside late at night and that if she was present, it was unlikely a bear or predator was in the yard at the same time. If she was not there, I took it as a sign that there might be a predator in the area. It was comforting to know she was there for more reasons than one. For me, it felt good to know I had a friend in the night.
I believe the deer learned to know or always knew that deep inside and outwardly I am a softie. I noticed as winter waned that some of the deer seemed as though they might be pregnant. Mother deer was one of those. I secretly hoped we might see a fawn eventually. Little did I know what that would mean in the weeks to come.
Something was out of sync…out of tune and off beat with the sweet spring concert on the eve of Monday, May 25. It seemed that one of the singers sang with discord, instead of the usual perfect blend of the evening chorus. I hesitated and listened as I walked my dog Shakira for the last time around our driveway that circled the garage south of our house.
Something seemed amiss. I could not identify the tiny squall I heard. I thought the cry out of the wild might be from a fawn or a baby crow fallen from a nest. I had heard and seen a fawn years ago on one of my favorite running trails through the woods. This cry in the night was similar, but tinier. There was not much I could do. And should I do anything? My interference could end up being more of a hindrance than a help. I went to bed that night with the puzzle on my mind unsolved.
The tiny squalling voice pierced the next morning quiet, even more so than it had the evening chorus. Whatever was crying could be at risk of attracting a predator because of the continual and perpetual cry. I worried, but I was unable to do anything because I needed to go to town for an appointment the first thing the morning of Tuesday, May 26.
That morning I attended the appointment briefly and then returned home. My plan was to accomplish as much as I could that day whether that be work or rejuvenating in nature. The top item on my to-do list was to explore and perhaps discover the source of whomever or whatever was continually crying south of our home.
Briskly I walked first to my aunt’s house, which was approximately a block south of our home. My concern was that if it was a fawn, one of the dogs that hung out in her yard might discover and injure it.
Quickly I covered the ground I needed to cover, but discovered nothing of interest. Next, I explored the field and its edge south of our home and saw nothing out of the ordinary. Guiltily, I returned to my inside duties feeling the need to accomplish something that day unhampered. It was not long, however, before I returned to the outside search, determined to get to the bottom of what was going on.
Going the extra mile was the norm for me and to assist someone or something in need is what I do naturally. I was sure that whatever made the tiny squalls was not a baby crow as the tiny cries seemed to move from place to place. I did not think a baby crow would be that mobile on the ground.
The field and edge of it seemed a likely place to search, so I walked next to the tree line. As I quickly, quietly, and thoroughly covered ground, I came to the spot where I found what I was looking for. I came upon the sweetest and most delicate golden fawn peering out at me from under a pale green fern.
The tiny soul seemed unafraid and only slightly curious about this strange intruder to his woodland world. It shook its tiny head slightly as if to shake off an insect of some kind. Not wanting to create a stir and not knowing where the mother deer was, I turned on my heel and returned to my home and my duties. I refrained from returning with my camera to take a photo of what would have been the perfect picture of a tiny young fawn. The puzzle was solved!
Debbie Lamphere lives in Hibbing. This story will continue in future issues of Hometown Focus.