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.