On last night’s episode of Porch TV (what I call everything I can see from my porch), I had the most incredible encounter with a deer. Because I keep strange hours, I have become well accustomed to the comings and goings of all the wildlife around my home year-round, including the middle of the night. That’s when the deer come down to browse in the lawns, mostly in summer, but we’ve had a mild Midwest fall and they’re still around.
There’s this one trio of does that run together all year that I like to imagine was probably a one-hit-wonder Motown girl group in another life, and they are reborn together each time experiencing the world as sisters that find one another no matter the skin they’re in. I see the girls the most often. But the stags. Oh, the stags. It’s never not a magical moment when you see a head lift up from the grass beneath the amber sheen of streetlamp light, and it’s got a a crown full of antlers.
The stags. Good God, the stags. I have no words for the bliss-point of that moment when in the middle of the night, you lock gazes with a stag and you see him see you, and he does not see you as a threat. For some reason, the fact that wild things that call the forest home seem to trust me enough to not only not run away but continue to eat—I mean, that’s typically when an animal is at its most exposed—I don’t know. It is a comforting thought to think that in a world where we are all constantly scrambling and tussling for positions of power, our egos seeing threats where there are none, boogeymen at every turn in one another, my personal electromagnetic field doesn’t pose a threat to somebody out there. If I’m having a bad day, I try and think about how even the stags,all bulky spring-loaded muscle and grace, but so shy for all of their power, sense I mean them no harm. I respect their space and I am aware that at that hour of the night, the world belongs to them, and I am just a guest even on my own front porch. And when they bound off, their hooves clattering up the street, at barely a skip, they are fast. Seeing a stag is always a gift.
Last night, however, in an equally mesmerizing moment, I had just finished entering final grades, and at around 1:30 am, I decided to make a run to the store for a victory snack. I flipped on the porch light, barreled through the door, and was shocked to find that not six feet away, a young doe was in my lawn, very close to the porch. She appeared just as surprised to see me. I want to say I recognized her as the same lil’ doe that came crashing over my fence out back and almost ran into the pine tree the night before. I snort-laughed because it’s not often I see a deer move through the world as awkwardly as me. “Hey, hey, hey!” I hissed, “Where is the fire?" Slow down young lady, with these maniac cars driving through here all crazy. Are you trying to get hit?” She had the nerve to toss a look at me and flip her sassy little tail up before trotting off into the night, her hooves tapping out a staccato rhythm up the street. Smh. Teenagers. (Yes, I talk to the wildlife around here like they’re people and have given most of the names—I blame it on seeing too many anthropomorphized animals in cartoons growing up)
But there she was, several feet away, nosing around Sir Reginald’s roots at the wildlife mix I left out for the regulars. I don’t usually put it out that late in the day, so I’m guessing she just kind of took advantage of the timing. (Side Note: I have since learned that you don’t want to give deer corn, even though they like it, particularly in the winter, because the sudden change in their regulated diet makes them all acidic and they could keel over, but I’m guessing the few kernels she got a hold of didn’t hurt. If you want to feed deer in the winter, you’re supposed to introduce new foods slowly. But I won’t be making that mistake again in case she tells her friends.)
Anyway, we stood there staring at one another (I was also quietly hyperventilating), so I let her see me avert my eyes and turn my head away. I figured that might work like it did with the squirrels. At least at my house, the squirrels don’t seem to feel comfortable eating in front of you if they see that you’re watching them. I’m sure that’s probably just a hardwired response to predators in there somewhere that makes them freeze until you look away. But then, she put her head back down to nibble, snuffling at the frosty ground, circling Sir Reginald slowly, and I watched her breath circle her ears like a halo. I’ll be honest. It felt like a dream. It’s the closest a deer has ever come to my front door. I don’t know why it felt so good other than it just felt good. Even across species, it’s like, if you look for it, you get a singular moment where you remember that separateness is an illusion. That we are all extensions of the cosmos and natural world. A doe’s gotta eat, right? So did I. Thus, at the same time of night, we were both out doing the same thing—scrounging for junk food.
Next time, I’m crossing my fingers it’s one of the stags.