“…next to deep woods”

at the edge

Looking out, as the sun came up over Mount Hallowell, as I wondered at my restlessness, as I tried to think of how to do the work that is waiting for me, listed on a scrap of paper, the list enumerating the hours, I saw the deer come out of the woods. So I went to stand about twenty yards away, talking softly, and around us the robins were making their last songs to territory and creation.

Go elsewhere your own way,

lonely and wanting. Or
stay and be early:
next to deep woods

inhabit old orchards.

           --Philip Booth, from "How to See Deer"

the news

the brothers

Late afternoon yesterday I looked up from my desk through the big window facing south and two bucks were staring at me. Just at the edge of the woods. They had small antler buds which might mean they’re young ones, brothers maybe, but black-tail bucks lose their antlers every January or so and grow new ones in April so maybe these are mature adults. But then I wonder if they’d be traveling together? They looked at me, they ambled, they both darted back to the the bluff they’d just come up, alert as they watched for something I couldn’t see. People have recently encountered wolves just up the mountain behind us and we hear coyotes fairly often so it could have been either. I was reminded of this poem, not because of the snow (luckily we’re spared that!) but because of all the news carried by their presence. The white muzzle and throat of the one on the right, the tentative step forward, then back. And when I went out to greet them, they bounded into the woods, tails high.

Three Deer One Coyote Running
               in the Snow

First three deer bounding
and then coyote streaks right after
tail      flat out

I stand dumb a while two seconds
blankly black-and-white of trees and snow

Coyote’s back!
good coat, fluffy tail,
sees me:            quickly gone.

I walk through where they ran

to study how that news all got put down

—Gary Snyder, from No Nature: New and Selected Poems

Last year’s doe…

John called down, “There’s a deer right below my window,” and looking out, I saw her, arching her body to pee on the soft moss. I’m pretty sure it was last year’s doe, the one who came most mornings with her fawn,


pausing to nibble grass, the tips of roses, the clumps of daylilies (which, sure enough, were eaten in the early hours). And looking again, I saw that fawn, now a yearling, reaching up to eat the new leaves, just buds really, on the Japanese maple. I went out the back door and chased them off. I love to see them but I haven’t quite finished lifting all sorts of plants — iris, daylilies, and other things these visitors feast on — to replant inside the deer-proof fence that surrounds the vegetable garden. More and more, the garden has to be contained or else elevated to save it from the deer. We used to have dogs. They lived outside — there’s a cedar-sided insulated house John built for Lily, with its own sign — Cave Canem (Forrest was studying Latin…) — and she loved it but Tiger was claustrophobic and would only sleep in the open or, in cold weather, on little nests of dry grass under the house (ours is built on footings, on rock…). If we tried to make things more comfortable for her by putting blankets under the house, on boards to keep them — and her — up off the ground, she’d wait until we went away and then she’d drag them out. She wanted a bed of her own making. Like Lily, Tiger slept with one ear open for animals and we’d hear her barking at dawn, as the deer came near, or else in the night when the bears inevitably came for crabapples.

So no dogs means deer in abundance, or at least in the years when they are abundant. (When they’re not, it’s one sign that cougars are around.) And a bear, last year, grazing on sweet grass and, later, the crabapples. One night this winter, I went out on the deck to look at stars and surprised two deer at the foot of the grapevine growing up over the trellis. Not far from here, as the crow flies, the poet Tim McNulty has written beautifully of deer:

And the nights I sat at my desk unknowing,
and the lamplight
found its way through the frost-lit trees,
what, if anything, did it mean to her
–nipping at her winter coat
to make a bed for the fawns,
sharing our water for a time.

— from ‘Three Poems for Deer”

I’ve just come in from the vegetable garden where I mulched the garlic bed with compost


and saw a tiny tree-frog nestled among some dead leaves and straw, almost exactly the same colour as the straw:

tree frog

It’s the time of year when things happen so quickly. A few days ago, I noticed some clumps of primroses in bud. Today they’re in bloom.


I don’t know what kind these are — I bought them years ago at a community plant sale where (mostly) elderly gardeners brought divisions of irises and old roses and rhubarb and to them I am grateful for my old-fashioned and unnamed moss roses and vigorous horseradish roots — but they remind me of the wild primroses growing in the fields in Ireland when I lived there nearly 40 years ago. There was so much folklore associated with them and I remember various stories about their magical properties, as well as their medicinal ones.

Guard the house with a string of primroses on the first three days of May.  The fairies are said not to be able to pass over or under this string.’

–From the National Folklore Collection, University College Dublin. NFC S.455:237. From Co Kerry.

There are lots of myths associated with deer too. Long associated with Artemis (we all know what happened to Actaeon), they were also credited with nursing abandoned babies and would-be saints, had powers of divination, were spiritual guides, and were considered emblems of decorum and kindness.

Though, until this morning, I’d never seen one pee.


the small god

This morning, a young deer, a yearling buck, came to eat the grape branches torn off by raccoons the other night. John called to say he was out in the back and I went out to talk to him. It didn’t really matter about the grapes — I’d picked what I needed for the most beautiful jelly flavoured with rosemary and a few hot chilies — but I don’t want the deer coming so close to the house. They inhale roses, for one thing. And I think it’s better for them to keep their boundaries. That’s what I told him. Yet I felt I was in the presence of a god when I stood quite close to him and watched him watching me. (Though every time I tried to photograph his face, he looked away.)

P1100571The Greek hermit saint, St. Giles, is always portrayed with a hind at his side.


In some versions of his story, he lived in a forest in the south of France and fed upon the milk of the hind who slept at his feet. John said, as I was talking to our young visitor, “It wouldn’t take much to tame him.” But I’d rather leave him wild, though it was hard to resist stroking that face.