I stopped cutting twine atop the green feed bale and turned as the tractor shuts off. “Look.” Jerry points to the west against the trees, “You’ve got company.” Ten white-tail deer standing, still, at the edge of the tree line, just southwest, over the cattle fence and past the oil pump jack, hold me captive. At that most contented moment, I know such a deep peace and yet know it not. It wasn’t anything I could grasp and hold in my hand, for beneath the knowledge seems a bitter taste. Peace is everywhere; it is nowhere. I cannot keep it out when it wants in and I can’t find it when I look for it. In that moment, I am intensely aware of life beneath the snow, in the tree bark of the aspen and the tree branches where the newly arrived squirrel plays. The deer gaze back, standing motionless, tails flagging, noses testing the winds. A failure of words. Stillness stops. The emptiness is filled with living, a bazillion cells in tableau.
The tableau shifts as Blue Moon, my border collie, sees the deer and rushes away toward them, “No, Blue,” I yell. What’s worse? My yell or her chase? The deer melt into the aspen. They’re gone. Sometimes, if the wind is shifting just perfectly, the herd doesn’t seem to notice me and Blue doesn’t notice the herd. Then, like life, I can stand motionless for endless minutes before they catch my scent and bound over the fences and into the trees.
I encounter the deer morning and evening, sunrise and sunset. What are the deer? For many cultures, the deer are the embodiment of heart. What is it that pulls me back day after day to watch? Or, housebound, draws me away from the study and the computer to the kitchen window to watch their coming and going? What do I see? What feels? I am pleased that my son Colin has told his children of the deer. Tonight, they ask over dinner, “Will the deer come, Grandma?” Will we see them?”
“Perhaps. We’ll need to watch from inside or on the verandah,” I say. “They’ll smell you guys long before they smell me……….I think they’re getting used to me. They don’t seem to leap away so fast.” I put a board over the sink and lift three-year old Ava Michelle to sit where she won’t tire of waiting. “They come just before it’s dark,” I say.
“Should we be quiet?” the children ask. “No, they won’t hear you from inside.” Liam sees them first, “They’re here! They came!” He is transfixed. Noah stands just behind his brother. Quiet. Watching. I watch the kids, not the deer. It’s only a few minutes before the deer bound away. Blue has once more disrupted their feeding. They’ll return again, much after dark when the dog has gone off to her night places. She’ll bark at them but won’t bother to stir herself to go up behind the barns and feed yards to chase. Would that us humans would stay in our kennels, I think.
We return to dinner. The children’s questions remind me of how much we have lost in our technocratic world with its never-ending focus on ‘gizmos’. I am thankful that I can still stay here on the farm and that the kids have the chance to encounter, to know, even briefly, their deep mystical connection and interdependence with the universe. What is the connection? As I begin to write, I realize that I have little inner awareness of deer consciousness. I am drawn to the peace and gentleness and yet I recognize that there is violence in the universe and violence in the world of deer-self. I don’t want to fall prey to the romanticism of nature. Nature has its own violence, but that is another encounter I call “encountering the river running through me”.
(To be continued…)