Once spring brings new fawns, it isn’t long before the yearlings separate from the does and join the herd. I thought maybe it was the presence of a new baby that signaled to the yearling to leave her mother’s side.
Yesterday morning I think I saw how the separation actually occurs. A spindly-legged tiny fawn and her yearling sister wandered the field as their mother lay in the grass watching. The rest of the herd was grazing elsewhere.
Every few minutes, the yearling trotted up to her mother. The first time, the doe stood and chased the yearling off. After a minute, the yearling moved close again, as though she hoped for a little comfort after a rude rejection. Once again the mother chased her off, without violence, but with unmistakable firmness that I could feel from the top of the hill where I stood.
Navigating beginnings and endings is a challenge for most of us. Relationships often have to change, sometimes they end. Even sending beloved children out into the world can be a tough transition.
After a couple more tries, the yearling seemed to accept rejection. For the next 20 minutes, while I watched, she stayed within eyesight but never moved in close to the older doe again.
One early morning observation isn’t science, but I think I know what I saw. The yearling needed a determined maternal push in order to move on. She had to come to terms with a change she wasn’t prepared for.
Whether the mother struggled with the change we will never know; but I do so envy her ability to know when, and how, to let go.
I call her Lily now, which doesn’t make any sense because I didn’t name her until she disappeared. Besides, I don’t name wild animals. I first saw her three years ago when she was just a spindly-legged new fawn. She was a pied fawn, more white than brown. There were no other deer so conspicuous in the herd. Tiny fawns are left alone when their mothers are feeding and I worried she would be easy prey for coyote.
Near the end of her first summer, I spotted her from a quarter mile away one morning. She seemed to be alone in a grassy field. When I got closer, I realized the entire herd was there. The pied had been easy to spot while the others blended in and were only visible when I was very close to them.
She stayed with her mother that first winter. They grazed quietly together, sometimes only a few hundred yards away from the herd, often completely alone, as though they weren’t part of the herd.
I saw Lily the next spring with her mother and a new fawn.. They made a pretty trio, the lovely doe, the pied, and her little brown baby sister.
That summer I saw her every week or so, but not with her mother; she was always by herself.
I came to believe that the rest of the herd didn’t want her near. It seemed like common sense. Her pretty white coat reflected brightly in sun or shade. Surely her presence endangered the whole herd.
Winter came again and I didn’t see her at all, though I often saw the other deer. Eventually, I decided something might have happened to the little doe. Then, a year ago, on a foggy early spring morning, I turned a corner near the fields. There she stood, fully grown, filled out, and healthy-looking.
She was pulling on the new buds of a rose bush. Many people hate the deer for their rose-loving ways. I glanced at the window of the house, half-expecting to see an angry homeowner, but a woman stood in the window wearing a blue bathrobe, watching the first of her rosebuds disappear, and smiling broadly.
There is nothing like starting the day with good news. The pied doe was alive and well!
I thought her story would stop there, with a known and happy ending. She was separated from the herd, probably because of her conspicuous color, yet she was near, and well. Then I saw her once more.
Last fall, in the middle of a warm afternoon, she was in the street in front of my house. The neighbors across the street have an old apple tree and I often get to watch the deer enjoy fallen fruit. But Lily wasn’t eating apples. She was moving back and forth restlessly. Turning to start back toward Kellogg Creek where the rest of the herd would likely be, then turning anxiously in the other direction. She didn’t seem to know where to go.
I have seen very young bucks doing the same thing in late summer, just before breeding season. I was told the bucks have been turned away from the herd and must move on. They act confused and upset. Its the only comparison I can make to the way the doe was behaving that afternoon.
I saw her make a decision that day. She marched forward, into the unknown, down Snowberry toward Briggs. If she stayed on that path she could only end up on Oatfield Road and, perhaps, McLoughlin. A doe was killed on Oatfield a few years ago. McLoughlin Boulevard would surely kill her. There was nothing I could do but watch. Maybe she went around the block and back to Kellogg Creek, but my gut tells me she was leaving.
I like to think the cars stopped on McLoughlin and watched her make her way across the busy highway and on to a new home. That happened once for my old blind dog, Jasper. I heard about it later, how all the cars stopped because the drivers seemed to understand he was trying to find his way home. He made it too, with a little help from a stranger.
Why did I name her after she was gone? I’m not sure. I was able to pick her out of the herd. I was able to follow her story. I came to know her, so now I call her by name.