Winter deer

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“Winter is a long, open time.  The nights are as dark as the end of the world…If you lived through only one of those winters the way this elk has, you would write books about it.  You would become a shaman.”  –Craig Childs, The Animal Dialogues:  Uncommon Encounters in the Wild

There are deer, not elk, living in my woods, but I think the sentiment applies just the same.  They could be shamans out there in the bitter cold, and often take my breath away when I arrive home, late in the afternoon, and see them running for cover on skinny tendons of legs.  A family of five nestles down in the snow in the woods, behind the wood pile.  At twilight, they trudge down to the water’s edge, and then, in desperation, stand on their hind legs as they tear at red willow branches for food.  Tracks traverse back and forth everywhere across the snow outside the bedroom windows, and I wonder if hundreds of them have come to my house in the dark night, just hoping to survive, while I’m sleeping in my warm and cozy bed.  So many don’t make it to Spring.  They, too, are everywhere, bloody carcasses in the snow next to the highway, with flocks of crows gathered around and the occasional Bald Eagle, who has abandoned his nobility, in the ravages of a long winter.

While I got a short break by visiting a friend in Arizona, another epic snowstorm/blizzard hit, just hours after my flight took off.   I arrived home late yesterday to 18 inches of new snow, and a record low temperature for the date.  This afternoon, I’m still in my jammies as I unpack and survey the landscape, from inside the house.  Early in the morning, lake fog obscured all but the top of the mountains on the other side of the lake, and when the sun rose off the horizon, they turned a lovely shade of pink.  Now, a light breeze is blowing clumps of snow off the trees, and ice crystals in the air look like the diamonds which dust the curves of the mounded snow.  The trees make long blue shadows with crisp edges.  Our weather forecasters are saying that winter is certain to continue on through the rest of this week, as well as the first week of March–at least.  The new life of Spring feels a long ways away, and “the nights are as dark as the end of the world”.  It’s time for me today to venture out for soup ingredients, and get home in time for the deers’ twilight offering, as we trudge through this long winter season.

Traveling Through the Dark— WILLIAM E. STAFFORD
Traveling through the dark I found a deer
dead on the edge of the Wilson River road.
It is usually best to roll them into the canyon:
that road is narrow; to swerve might make more dead.
By glow of the tail-light I stumbled back of the car
and stood by the heap, a doe, a recent killing;
she had stiffened already, almost cold.
I dragged her off; she was large in the belly.
My fingers touching her side brought me the reason—
her side was warm; her fawn lay there waiting,
alive, still, never to be born.
Beside that mountain road I hesitated.
The car aimed ahead its lowered parking lights;
under the hood purred the steady engine.
I stood in the glare of the warm exhaust turning red;
around our group I could hear the wilderness listen.
I thought hard for us all—my only swerving—,
then pushed her over the edge into the river.


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