I was expecting them. Every night between seven-thirty and eight o’clock they came. Usually someone just happens to notice them in the pasture after we’ve brought in the horses. Tonight I had the whole farm to myself. I decided to sit down and wait.
The first one seemed to just materialize out of thin air. It wasn’t there, and then it stepped from the cover of some trees into the clearing. Just as magically, the second one appeared.
They went to the mineral lick. The hole they’ve made is so deep I couldn’t see the head of the one who demanded first turn. Something caught their attention on the other side of the pasture. Heads raised, ears wide, they listened. And watched. I assumed it was harmless; whatever had distracted them from the lick. They moved down the hill, and out of sight. When they returned, two more accompanied them. Friends for sure.
While I watched the four comrades, a mother and baby tiptoed out of the woods. The little one still had its spots, and wanted to play with a pronghorn – probably big brother. Now, there were six.
I sat motionless, enthralled by the gift of watching this herd of deer at peace in my horse pasture. Outside the fence, between woods and pasture is a patch of tall weeds. I could see patches of red-gold, a flash of white. Then two more deer ducked under the fence and joined the six, taking turns at the mineral lick. One was another male, with double pronged antlers. Older than the other one? More movement in the weeds, another mother and fawn appeared. This fawn is shy. It didn’t want to come into the pasture. It pranced in a circle, then seeing Mother had already made the decision to join the group, it cautiously came into the open, out of the cover of the lush growth of dog fennel and pokeweed.
The first fawn, still looking for a playmate made advances to the newcomer. But, fawn number two didn’t want to play and after the first snip and kick move made a beeline for Mama. Counting eight in the herd, I was surprised when a ninth appeared over the hill. This loner seemed bigger than the rest, and had no antlers. Do deer herds have a “boss” female like horses? Or maybe she is a senior citizen, ostracized from the rest. She stayed to herself, not really joining the others.
The deer spread out in the pasture, after they’d each had a turn at the lick, and grazed in small groups. One doe suddenly noticed my presence. She threw her head up, radar ears on alert, and stepped toward me. I was sitting in a lawn chair just outside the fence—in the stable yard. She took half steps, holding one leg up in mid aid with each step. She stopped, trying to get focused she dropped her head, and then raised it. I’ve learned in my equine studies that grazing “prey” animals have to lower and raise their heads to focus. They have monocular vision, an eye on each side of the head. Works differently than our eyes. I tried not to even blink. Then I blinked my eyes several times to see what she’d do.
Snort, and run! That’s what. But not very far, then she stopped and gazed in my direction again. The others were split in their decisions – half ran all the way to the back of the pasture, at the bottom of the hill. I could barely see the tips of their ears. Three others stayed put, hardly paying the curious doe any attention. Maybe they considered her the “drama queen” of the herd. The mothers with children were among the runners.
The inquisitive doe wasn’t satisfied and started over to me again. Focus, focus, step, step. She was only a few feet from me with a fence post blocking my vision. I cocked my head to one side to see her. She stopped. I stopped. She came a few steps closer. The deer that had not run the first time were grazing, ignoring her antics.
In a sudden burst of energy she rolled back on her haunches and sped away, sounding the alarm with what I can only call a nasal whistle. This time every member of the herd fled to the bottom of the hill, ears turned in my direction.
The sun was below the tree line and I decide to leave them in peace. But, what a nice way to end the day?