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The Deer Chronicles


Image by Heather Barnes

The Fawn

     The wind had picked up and snow was flying horizontally, plummeting the sliding glass doors of my living room. I was making sure they were shut tight when I saw the fawn. It stood in the meadow, tiny and alone, pelted by snow. The fawn faded into the swirling white, and I drew the curtains. The following day, the fawn was there again, its legs half-buried in snow. At first, I thought that its mother must be nearby, but when no other deer appeared, I became worried.

     My dwelling was a refurbished chicken coop facing a small meadow and surrounded by woods that during the autumn were crawling with hunters. The mother must have been killed, I thought, and the fawn must be hungry. Hurrying to the kitchen, I pulled down my box of granola from the cupboard, poured it into a cereal bowl then added whatever fruit I had and some raisins, pushed the sliding doors open and went onto the stone patio. After clearing away some snow, I placed the dish on the stones and retreated to the warmth of my chicken coop. The fawn approached warily and ate. When it had finished, it looked at me through the glass. It looked like Bambi. Not all fawns look like Bambi, but this one did.

     The next day the fawn was standing in front of my sliding doors again. After filling a bowl with what remained of my cereal, I went outside and placed it a few feet from the fawn, who devoured the contents and then pooped. There were yellow stains and scat in the snow leading from my porch into the meadow. “The cereal must be too rich,” I thought. Needing advice, I bundled up and drove to the feed store in Accord, New York.

     “You’re feeding that fawn granola with raisins and apples?” the man asked, raising his eyebrows. “First of all, you shouldn’t be feeding deer. Secondly, they’re not used to granola, let alone raisins. You got to give ‘em deer feed or horse feed.”

     “There’s such a thing as deer feed?” I asked.

     “You must be from the city,” he said, meaning New York City.

     “I’m from Honolulu.” He rolled his eyes. “Why are you here?” I got that question a lot. Tired of answering, I just shrugged. His expression melted from incredulity into one of compassion for an idiot. “Wait,” he said. He walked into the storeroom and returned with a fifty-pound bag of deer feed. “Give the fawn this,” he said. “No raisins and go easy on the apples.”

     It was dusk when I got back to my chicken coop and the fawn was waiting. Lugging the deer feed into my entryway, I scooped several cups full of the sticky grains (molasses makes it sticky) into a bowl and set it down on the patio. The fawn consumed every morsel. This continued twice a day for two weeks, then my mother called from Florida where she had recently moved after the death of my father. She had fallen and broken her hip, and she needed me. I immediately made reservations to go to her, but I worried about the fawn. It was impossible to leave the fawn alone with one snowstorm following another, so I called the SPCA. They didn’t take care of wild animals, but they referred me to several vets and organizations that did. The one that responded was in New Paltz, forty minutes away.

     Michelle listened to my story and offered to help without hesitation. I made a shelter for the feed dish to protect it from snow, arranged for a friend’s daughter to feed Natasha, my cat and flew to my mother.

     Every day for three weeks Michelle and her husband drove from New Paltz to my chicken coop and fed the fawn. Then one day, a vicious storm came through and the roads were blocked. “We can’t get there,” Michelle said when she called. “There’s no visibility and the roads are ice.” Snow continued to fall for two more days. When Michelle and her husband were able to get to the coop, the fawn did not appear. They trucked to the meadow twice more, but the fawn never came back.

     “The feed hasn’t been touched,” she said. “Something’s happened to the fawn. Probably a coyote got it.” For several days after I returned, I put feed out, hoping that the fawn would come back, but I never saw it again.

The Doe

     A fine sleet obscured the tree line at the end of my meadow. Through the accompanying fog, two shadowy forms could be discerned, like watermarks on paper. The forms moved forward, the larger one jerking up and down, and stopped approximately eight feet from me. The mist drifted sideways, like a curtain being pulled back, and there stood a three-legged doe and her late-born fawn. The wound on the doe’s left thigh where the gunshot had torn into the muscle was still open, and her dangling lower leg had atrophied. She looked steadily at me. I interpreted her gaze as a plea for food; perhaps she knew about the orphan fawn I’d fed a month earlier. There was still feed left, so I ran to the kitchen, lifted my largest bowl down from the shelf, chopped up two apples and went to the closet where I kept the 50lb, partially used bag of feed. After scooping some into the bowl, I added the apples and took the bowl out to the meadow. The doe and her fawn were waiting, still as statues. Placing the bowl on the snow, I retreated to the cottage and through the sliding glass doors of my living room watched as they moved to the feed and began to eat. When they had finished, the doe turned and limped back into the meadow, followed by her fawn. Donning my coat, I retrieved the empty bowl, washed it out, and then drove to the country store for more apples. I knew they’d be back.



      It wasn’t long before the herd found out that I was feeding the doe and her fawn. One sharp February evening, I filled my new black rubber feed vat with grain and carried it outside. There were twelve deer in the meadow. After placing the vat in front of the doe and her baby, I hurried back to the cottage and stood by the glass doors watching the herd. If they interfered with “my” deer, I would interfere with them. The fawn and his mother began to eat, while the motionless herd looked on. One young deer ventured forth hoping to join in, but two bucks with large racks corralled the intruder and he trotted back to the herd. After the doe and fawn had finished, I carried out a large mixing bowl and filled that and the vat with feed, then ran inside to watch. The herd fawns approached the feed first, followed by the female deer. Meanwhile, the two bucks with the racks stood on either side of the meadow facing out, like sentries. After the females had finished, the males moved in and had their turn. At some point, the sentries left their posts and with stately tread, proceeded to the vat. The other male deer scattered, and the two bucks ate, letting an occasional fawn in for a snack. But if any of the adults attempted to join the bucks, they reared up on their hind legs and the interlopers cantered away. This protocol was observed every time I fed the deer.

     The herd’s behavior fascinated me. I presumed that all deer herds behaved that way, but when I moved to Woodstock, I found that not to be true. The herd that lived in the woods surrounding my Woodstock cottage converged on the vats en masse, pushing each other aside, and rearing up, pawing the air in mock combat. They’re anarchists, I thought, hippie deer.



     Frost had made the stone path to my front door slippery. Keeping my eyes on the walk, I moved carefully from the car to the cottage, grasping my groceries. When I glanced up, the three-legged doe was standing in the path.

     “Well, hello,” I said. She limped toward me, stopping less than three feet away. Her gentle eyes looked directly into mine. We held each other’s gaze for what seemed like an eternity, and then she turned and hobbled back down the walk and into the meadow. I continued to the front door, and once inside my abode, sank down on a chair still holding my groceries. Something magical had just happened. “She’s grateful to me for feeding her and her fawn,” I thought. “She was thanking me.”

     Spring arrived and suddenly everything was in bloom. The deer herd began their migration to the upper meadow, and the doe and her fawn’s visits became intermittent. I continued to put out feed for them, but when they didn’t appear for a week, I stopped. It was hard for me at first; I missed them, missed the connection the doe and I had established. But I was glad that they had made it through the winter and content knowing that now they had vegetation to eat.

     One day in mid-summer, I was working in my little garden at the edge of the meadow when the shoulder-high grasses began to stir. A young male deer stepped out and stood directly in front of me. Startled, I put down my spade and said, “Why, aren’t you handsome!” He regarded me with his liquid brown eyes. The grasses parted again, and the three-legged doe limped out. She stopped beside her son and looked fully at me. “He’s beautiful!” I exclaimed. After a few moments, mother and son turned and re-entered the meadow. My eyes followed them until the shifting grass was still. “She was showing me her son,” I thought. “She wanted me to know that they were alright.”

     I moved from the cottage in Accord, New York to Woodstock that year, and never saw the three-legged doe and her son again. But our relationship remains one of the most precious of my life. It allowed me to enter that sacred space that can exist between a human and a wild animal when there is trust and awoke in me a profound empathy for wild creatures that has enriched my life. Since then, I have taken care of injured animals and protected all manner of wildlife, including deer, a raven, chipmunks, an alligator, a dying goldfish and for a whole summer, an orphaned bear cub. Realizing that the integrity of wild creatures must be respected, I have never tried to make pets of these creatures. But I do love them, and I’m honored to have been able to help them in my small way, and grateful.

Carolyn Albright is an artist and writer from Hawaii who has lived in the Catskill Mounains of New York for thirty-one years. She graduated summa cum laude from Kansas City Art Institute, and has shown her paintings in Honolulu, New York City, and Woodstock. Among her accomplishments are the prestigious Communication Arts Award for illustration for the original Hawaiian Planations product, and the twelve by eight-foot painting commissioned by the Sate of Hawaii for the satellite City Hall on Oahu. Carolyn’s writing has been published in wildlife periodicals, including Wildlife Magazine, Inc, and she has just completed a memoire that recounts her search for her beloved, lost cat in the canyons of southern Uah. Carolyn is currently working on a second memoir and two painting commissions. Chief among the reasons that have kept Carolyn in the mountains of up-state, New York is to be near wild animals. The communication she has had with them has made her life richer, and she cannot imagine being deprived of their presence.

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