Today, coming down to the hill towards the pond, beginning my morning walk, two animals — one large, one small — standing in the middle of the gravel road. I caught my breath, stood stock-still, blinked and waited, blinking a few times to clear my not-so-good vision so I could identify them.
Ah. A white-tailed deer, and – what was that smaller creature? If a faun, the tiniest one I had ever seen, and low to the ground, and dark. No, surely no, not a faun.I waited on my eyes and brain…
Ah. A cat. A small, peripatetic black cat named Bootsie, belonging to my neighbor Andrew, who lives about a quarter-mile away (across from the graveyard I
wrote about last time). Bootsie often wanders over here to play with my two cats — at least, they play when they are all outside, but hissing and yowling begins if mine are on one side of the screen and Bootsie on the other. (David's portrait of Bootsie, looking spooky, which he's not, and half-wild, which he is, taken the April afternoon David visited the graveyard with me to take pictures.)
The deer (I had a side view, and I believe it was a him, a buck, though too young to have antlers) was facing the right, where the large meadow begins. Only his white tail moved, flickering upright occasionally. Bootsie, with all the delusions of grandeur that only a fearless young half-wild black cat can have, was crouched, in a stalking position. Both, at the sound of my feet, as still (except for that white tail) as the figures on Ode on a Grecian Urn.
Then I began to walk, slowly, towards them. The buck took off for the meadow, Bootsie in pursuit.
That glimpse would have been enough to transform that walk for me, to take my brooding heart from itself back to its true home: wonder. The life-work of seeing and loving the world and what's in it as it is, without being caught on the briers of fear, self-doubt, self- or other-hate, anxiety, all the thousand small things that remove us from the vastness. Yet knowing when and how to move in action, however one can from as it is to as it might be. Or should be. Yet to stay loving, seeing, eyes — however imperfect one's vision — open.
But when I got down to the break in the trees edging the meadow through which the two had disappeared, there stood the young buck, facing me, perhaps a hundred feet away. (No sign of Bootsie; the grass is tall).
All I could see was the buck's head, held nobly erect.
And here is the surpassing wonder of that moment: with morning sun behind him, the two thin-skinned upright elongated triangles of his ears were illuminated – a bright translucent deep red, each outlined by a two-sided triangular rim of brown fur.
As brilliant, and to me, more uplifting, than the rose windows at Notre-Dame de Paris.
I had never seen deer's ears like this before; I will almost certainly never see them again.
At that moment, the troubles I had begun the walk with dropped. "Such a perfect moment," as Mose Allison, sometimes called "the William Faulkner of jazz," sings, "Nothing you can say / One such perfect moment / Gets you through the day."
David, the resident photographer, is not here now, but in Los Angeles. He'll be there about a month, getting ready to sell a home he owns there. But even if he were here, he rarely goes on walks in the morning, so the only real way for you to picture it is through my description. Maybe that's enough.
(My friend Traca Savadago, the Seattle-based food maven and blogger said, generously, in a post about our friendship, "I photograph everything. Crescent photographs nothing. As a skilled
observer, I’m convinced she “sees” more. I lean on the image; she
expresses it through words.")
However, as I walked on down the hill, and then up, and then to the right, up and up through the woods above the pond, into and through more woods where Frazier has his sugaring operation, along one of the paths he keeps clear for access to his
sugaring lines, I remembered a picture David had taken on another walk. Not of a deer, not of a wild creature at all, but of a domesticated turkey, albeit a 'heritage' variety (you can tell because it's not pure white, and its breast is not so gargantuan that it is falling over).
But the sun was behind that turkey, too, and lit up its red wattle as if it was a blessed and sacred thing, as the deer's ears appeared to me.
As perhaps anything in the world is or would be, if we looked sufficiently closely, with sufficient illumination.Or, perhaps, if we had sufficient distance, to see the whole picture; a God's-eye view.
But who among us has that?
Deer were a problem in Eureka Springs, that sweet and vitriolic, contentious, lovely little Ozark Mountain town in Arkansas where I used to live. No one could agree about what should be done about them.
The deer there had no natural predators left, and had gotten complacent about the human inhabitants. They bred and bred and bred, and they lived close-up with the people. On the one hand, I could watch a doe nuzzle her two darling dappled fauns just a few feet from my kitchen window. Sometimes they stood; sometimes they knelt, napping. No one could have watched them and not said "Awwwww."
Yet no one in town had had a tulip bloom in years (the deer adored tulip bulbs); and, indeed, it was reaching the point where no one had much of a garden, vegetable or flower, at all, other than one composed of those plants the nurseries labeled "deer-proof." You had to be careful driving certain stretches of road, those in town but bordered by woods or brush-covered patches, because you were liable to hit a deer.
Certainly you would see the deer, even if you didn't hit them, all the time back in Eureka Springs; you could not avoid them. I still remember fondly a remark made by my first post-Ned boyfriend. We were driving into Dairy Hollow the back way one early evening in late summer; it was still a little light. It must've been a weekend, because he lived in Little Rock and would come up, driving his large loaded brand-new pick-up (he bought a new one every year, an affectation since he had grown up in Westchester, gone to Groton and then Duke, and was, in his business, billing $12K a month. But he lived in Arkansas now, and thiought he should have a pick-up).
A herd of deer, maybe 30 or 40 of them, on either side of the road, were calmly decimating the flora.
He pushed down the window-button, leaned out, and yelled at the deer, "Get a job!"
"The deer problem" was one of the countless things in Eureka people got exercised over (I used to think it was because we cared, because we weren't apathetic. Now I think maybe that that community just has some kind of magnetic pull to people who enjoy arguing, litigating, and busybodying. Probably there's something to both theories).
Shooting inside the city limits was illegal, besides which many opposed hunting on principle, although just as many engaged in it. Having someone from Game and Fish come and shoot the deer with birth control pellets was even discussed, though perhaps that was just a joke someone made, or one of the wild rumors that boomeranged around that place with such force that they took on the patina of truth.
Meanwhile, the deer multiplied, and went hungry.
Whether the town ever solved the this, I do not know; I moved away in 2002.
Here, though, on 35 acres in Vermont, it's rare to see a deer. Coyotes and weasels, natural predators, abound. That's what balance looks like. Things eat each other. That's what life looks like. If you're born (or "take a birth" as I heard said in India) , you eat and, eventually, will be eaten. Basic contract of inhabiting a body.
I stood and watched that deer with its ears like a sign from God, and it watched me, for perhaps 30 seconds, neither of us moving.
Then it stamped one hoof, took a half-step towards me and then turned, gave that strange loud snort they do and bounded away. Those huge leaping effortless bounds! I could see only the top of the deer, its white tail and reddish brown back, at the top of each bound. Then, it was out of sight. I heard one more snort, fainter, as vanished as if the whole episode had never taken place.
I continued my walk through the ferny, now starting-to-be-buggy, woods. There were
more shades of green than I have names for troubles. Yet I still walked weighted: there are no good alternatives for my 95-year-old mother. Every option has drawbacks. I don't have answers, let alone good ones, on to how to make her last years on earth as good as they can be. Every time I think it is figured out, things shift. Hundreds of hours have gone into finding a solution. My brother and I try hard, and come in and out of harmony with each other.
But I kept remembering the deer's ears.
When I came home I looked up the lyric's of that Mose Allison song, Perfect Moment. And then, because both sorrow and the illuminated ears of a wild creature are both themselves, and, to a writer, material, I came home and wrote this. Nothing is wasted on the writer. Like Mose, whose words follow, I am still in the game:
Mountain sheen, ocean shine
One such perfect moment
Never twice the same
Such a perfect moment
Will keep you in the game.