Sunday, May 26, 2013

Make Way For Ducklings and Fawns

Adabelle Road was a little like Beacon Street this morning, only without Fenway Park and Boston Common. It was a pair of Canada geese, not Mallard ducks, trying to cross the road with their offspring and, of course, there was no Michael the policeman stopping traffic. Still, the scene felt familiar as I was forced to a complete stop as an inter-gender discussion of which way to go took place on the white line running down the middle of the pavement.

After much flapping of the wings and shimmying of the hindquarters and moving onto opposite sides of the tight rope, the youngster whose safety was the original focus of all the discussion before it disintegrated into what was clearly a domestic power struggle fluffed up his own downy wings in a rapid flutter and startled his parents into making a decision and waddling out of harm’s way.

One afternoon a couple of weeks ago I drove through the dirt crossroads, less than a mile from home, and saw a young deer standing in the middle of the road about a hundred yards away, tire tracks banding her delicate feet planted in the sandy earth. Something small, probably a squirrel based upon size and speed, ran into the road and stopped directly in front of the deer. It seemed odd that a squirrel, or any other animal, unless it was rabid, would have done such a thing. And deer are skittish. They do not pause in the middle of the road to investigate other animals. They are not curious about those with whom they share the neighborhood. It was odd.

I drove on toward the deer expecting her to dart quickly into the forest. She didn’t move. I got closer, within 50 yards. Still she didn’t move. I was no more than 25 yards away when she finally trotted unusually slowly into the woods.

What I’d thought was a squirrel didn’t move. I decided it must be a box turtle and that the movement I’d associated with it had just been a flash of sunlight through the canopy of pine trees. But when I got about half a car length away, I realized that the mound was a tiny tiny tiny fawn curled in on itself like a crescent moon. It was clearly newly born.

I stopped the car, opened the door, and started making shooing sounds. The little face stared up at me and the huge ears twitched just the slightest bit, but he didn’t move. “Please, little deer,” I urged him, “get up! Get up!” He finally scrambled uncertainly to his legs. He was no more than two feet tall. After a wobbly start he ran ahead of me for about 30 yards, finally veering off to the edge of the road so I could get past and allow his mother, who’d done her best to divert my attention, to return.

It was a magical moment and the images have flickered around the edges of my consciousness ever since I drove away. Encountering the bickering Mallard ducks this morning brought the images back into focus and caused me to see what I had not before.

Making a crossing is fraught with danger. That which connects two parts of something is often where one is most vulnerable. A seam. An intersection. A joint. That is why there are reinforced stitches. That is why there are flashing lights and warning signs. That is why there are instruction manuals and trained technicians.

And, as in the cases of the fawn and the gosling, that is why there are those who have crossed before: because they know the way. More importantly, though, is that they know the risk. They know the risk and they go anyway, on guard not just for themselves but for the ones entrusted to their care.

Copyright 2013

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Run In The Forest, Run

I was walking in the woods, a hundred yards or so past the broken down, rusted out barbed wire fence that may or may not mark the property line between our land and our neighbors’. I had two friends with me, people accustomed to the outdoors, one of whom I call The Scientist. Their brand of nature, however, is generally more marine.

The one who grew up in Maine was amazed at the height of the pine trees and the size of the cones as we stood with hands on our hips leaning as far back as possible, chins stuck into the air trying to find the tops. The one who grew up farther down Highway 301 in the near-swamp was surprised to so see so many prickly pear cacti peeking through the underbrush. They were both amazed at the elaborate armature of the deer stands that seemed to appear out of nowhere.

We were following old logging roads, still wide and open if well-carpeted with years’and years’ worth of pine straw. We had found the head of the creek that runs around the southwestern corner of the farm and identified a lone stand of wild indigo, its butter yellow petals folded like hands in prayer. And we were talking. Chattering really, as friends who haven’t seen each other in a while will do.

Then mid-someone’s-sentence, someone else called out, “Look! Deer!” We turned abruptly in the direction of the pointed finger. Not 25 yards away three deer were bounding through the woods, their pace unimpeded by the vines and logs and low-hanging branches that had made our progress slow and necessarily methodical. They looked like ballet dancers leaping across a stage.

And in seconds they were gone.

These woods are not unfamiliar to me. I have been here many times over the years, nearly always alone. The few times I’ve had company it’s been just one other person and there have been few words passed between us. I have never before rustled up a deer.

My friends were delighted. I was rather pleased myself. It was as though the local fauna had decided to show off a little for the visitors.

Equivalent to my pleasure, though, was my curiosity. Was it just the noise that startled the timid creatures and caused them to run? Were they really so afraid of something that was no threat? Or were they utilizing some sort of diversionary tactic to draw our attention away from where they had been? Was it possible that somewhere in the soft brown mattress of last winter’s fallen leaves there was a newborn fawn or an old buck, sick and dying?

We tend to see people who run as deserving of contempt. We label them as men with no courage, women with no heart. We call them cowards and pray that we will never be so weak. The deer in the woods have made me wonder how many of those men and women run not for their own good, but for that of another. The deer in the woods have made me question whether running away might not, sometimes, be the best way of protecting something or someone that you love.

The last glimpse we got of the deer was a flash of tall white tail disappearing into the brush. We stood in the sudden silence for a brief moment and then turned for home, the questions rattling around in our pockets like pebbles and coins.

Copyright 2013