Chapter 2: Meeting the Deer
The first several months were filled with repair and renovation projects that would seemingly never end. Each project seamlessly turned into more projects. We had three furnaces and three hot water heaters to replace, outdated wiring and plumbing to upgrade, a new roof to put on, windows and doors to replace. Much of that had to be done before we could actually move in. When we did move in, the projects kept coming. Often we had to shift living spaces to accommodate construction crews.
So much was going on that we had barely noticed, at first, that we had visitors watching us from nearby areas of the yard, a yard that was in dire need of attention. But the deer did finally catch our attention and we began to slow down and pay closer attention. We saw quite a number of deer in those early months and they seemed content to observe, and not very skittish at our constant movement. We were amazed at how unafraid they appeared, some more so than others. We eventually learned that the former owners and others in the neighborhood had fed the deer on occasion, but not by hand.
The first time we saw Big Boy was shortly after we moved in, around mid to late October. We were in one of the North rooms that originally had been a dining room, but had more recently been used as a bedroom. We were busy converting it to shop space for our in-home small business. It was a bit small but we made it work for our needs. It had an East facing window, a West window that could see thru a separate entrance hallway to a portion of the yard to the West, and two large North facing windows. I remember looking up and seeing an enormous buck staring at us thru one of the large North windows, his antlers spanning an area that was bigger than the window. What a handsome creature, studying us with a “kingly” stare, perhaps trying to decide whether we belonged or not. We must have locked gazes for a full 30 seconds, but I felt a mysterious connection in that short span of time. Little did I know how “much” of a connection. He resumed grazing on the dried lawn area and browsing on whatever bushes still had leaves and maybe a few fallen apples. There was an elderly apple tree just outside the East facing window, and we noted that the deer were quite happy to clean up the fallen apples for us. The previous and only other owner had grafted this now 60 plus year-old tree. It bore at least 3 different kinds of apples, as well as pink and white blooms that came on at different times. None of the varieties were particularly edible to anyone other than the deer, and we suspect they may have been intended as cooking apples. The handsome visitor must have just recently come into his prime, judging by the size and span of his antlers, and by the size of his body. We would later guess that his age at that first meeting must be some where between 5 and 7 years old. When he was through inspecting us and dining on a variety of yard offerings, he strutted slowly out of the yard with a confidence that let us know in no uncertain terms that “he was king.” What a magnificent specimen we had just seen, and here we are, in the city. We were absolutely breathless. We wondered if we would see him again.
That first brief encounter with Biggie and with all the other deer that were coming around, just served to help us fall more deeply in love with our new “old” place, in spite of the state of disrepair. This was becoming magical. It was almost like we were in another time, not connected with today or tomorrow, but with yesterday. We almost felt like we had been here before, but of course we hadn’t, yet “it was meant to be” was being reinforced on a daily basis. The deer, the birds, the breezes, the views and countless other things offering daily greetings, continually contributed to the feeling that we were living in a dream. To this day we still don’t totally feel that this place “is ours.” Rather we feel more like we are being allowed to reside here, for now, for a small slice of time in the continuum. Actually, isn’t that all we are really about? We are the current stewards of this place, in this time, and we feel privileged and honored to have been chosen for such a pleasant task.
Over the next several months we had many more deer meetings. Our relationships and learning experiences were filled with so many gifts from nature. Tags, the first buck that we befriended, seemed to be most at home in our yard, spending hours at a time resting here. We could tell that he was an elder. His name was an obvious choice, wearing 2 orange tags (one in each ear) with the number 79 on each. We later learned that orange tags meant that DOW had tagged him at some point. Tags too was a handsome old man, and we think now that he may be kin to Biggie, if not his father. He also was frequently found with an older doe, whom we named Missy Tags. Missy Tags was afflicted with some condition that left her mottled looking face without much, if any hair, but she was part of a set, Mr. & Mrs. Tags. The relationship between Mr. and Mrs. Tags was a very unusual one, in that we normally see 2 or more bucks hanging out with each other. An older and a younger buck as pals was more the rule in our observations. What we don’t yet know is, what causes a pair of bucks to select each other as buddies. Is it a case of Father/Son or some other blood relation? Or does a younger buck pester an older buck until he gives in? Sort of like, “would you let me follow you around so I can learn the ropes”? I hope to learn more about this phenomenon.
Our hearts always went out to the older, injured and handicapped deer for some reason. They seemed more ready to accept assistance, if not downright expecting it, and so we began giving small amounts of help during the cold winter months. At first only to Missy Tags. She was already quite tame and she readily accepted the apples that we picked up from the old tree. Within days she accepted feedings by hand. We suspect that she had been hand fed by others. It seemed as though all the deer we encountered responded to “soft-talk”. They seemed to find it reassuring and calming. Perhaps it was that they responded to the calming effect it had on us?
Apples are like candy to deer, and even though we have many apple trees in the neighborhood and in our own yard, deer would always be at least curious about any apple offerings. We wondered why they would accept them by hand if they were plentiful on the ground. The deer were always curious about us and our yard activities.
Apples were presented gradually by offering pieces rolled across the ground from at least 10 feet away, in the direction of the deer, but in a manner that made it clear that things weren’t being thrown at them, as some neighbors routinely did to chase them away. Cutting the apples into quarters or eighths was a big help because their small mouth openings made it difficult to get started on a larger apple. Then the distance between the apple pieces and I was shortened over a period of a few days such that soon the deer was taking apples directly from my hand, all the while the soft talking continued. Trust between man and animal developed relatively quickly amongst most of these “already acclimated to humans, born-in-the-city deer.” It was not at all unusual for us to be able to be sharing yard space without the deer leaving or spooking. As my relationship with Missy tags developed, soon Tags became curious enough to investigate what we had going. “Was she getting something I should be getting?” we could hear passing thru Tags’ head. Well, Missy Tags and Tags may have been a “couple” be she wasn’t in a sharing mood when it came to apples. Anytime Tags got too close, usually within a few feet of the so-called “feeding zone”, she would become irritated at Tags and push him away. He always complied, though reluctantly. Only when she was finished and she walked away, did she allow Tags to enter the “feeding zone.”
If there was “pecking order” or “dominance” among Does, Missy Tags was the Queen. She seemed to have the respect of all the other deer, including the bucks, and in spite of how ragged she looked from whatever was causing the baldness on her face. Just to watch how they all interacted was a special treat. We were so privileged to experience “social order” in this small clan of deer, up close and personal, as our yard remained what it apparently had been, their “little half-acre haven.” We were delighted and proud to share it with them, and at the same time honored and grateful that they would share it with us. This was “their” home and their presence made it a magical place to be. We wanted to let them know that they were welcome and that they still had a safe place to be.
Finding deer in the yard was practically a daily occurrence, and we were glad for that. Tags always curious, would peer at us through open doorways whenever he was around. I suppose he was making it known that he was available to dispose of any apples that we just might want to get rid of.
Missy tags, on the other hand, was too proud to beg. She would come when, and only when she “knew for certain” that there would be apples, but she rarely hurried. She wasn’t about to demean her Queenly status by appearing too eager for handouts. Besides, she could get them herself anyway, from all the trees nearby.