Chapter 3: Good-bye to One, Hello to Another
It always amazed us how quiet deer were, especially when moving about. We could be outside working in the yard and suddenly feel eyes watching us. We would look up to be greeted by one of the gang, standing mere yards away. More than once, a nighttime trip to the yard resulted in near collisions with a deer or two. Curious how much less afraid they seemed to be at night. Maybe the cover of night made us appear less a threat than by day. Their quiet presence somehow always reinforce those “living is a dream” feelings we were experiencing.
As the winter months settled in, Missy tags struggled to stay warm in her thinning fur. Often we would see Tags lying close to her as if to share his body heat with her. He genuinely seemed to be attentive to Missy’s needs. She shivered a lot on some of the coldest days and nights. Our observations were that deer actually like the cold weather, but that may not be the case for the elderly or ill. We did what little we could to keep her warm by seeing that she had an ample supply of food, but our abilities to help were limited by her most primal instincts, thus physical warmth was something we could not adequately supply. We had been using Alfalfa hay as mulch in many of our garden areas because of the nutrients it supplied the soil, and we noticed that the deer also enjoyed the Alfalfa. Of course! Alfalfa hay is used to feed livestock of all kinds, so why not deer? And she was obviously happy for the assistance. Many times we felt that she probably wouldn’t make it through that winter, but she did with a spirit that still amazes us. She wasn’t ready to give up just because it was cold. She was a tough old girl.
Springtime arrives when many of the deer are now looking rather emaciated from the lack of a good diet and from a shedding of winter coats. Their coats were changing from winter grays into beautiful reddish browns. The city deer seem to fare better than deer in the wilderness, presumably because of the availability of a more diverse “city” diet and help from those of us who enjoy helping them. We do, after all, help the birds with various feeders and with heated birdbaths. Birds are not the only ones using heated birdbaths. The deer use them regularly, as do fox and squirrels and many others creatures. Most mornings find at least one of the 2 birdbaths that I keep warmed, nearly empty.
Missy Tags had come through winter but she was not doing well in spite of the warmer temperatures. I began to suspect that her eyesight was failing, and she may have even lost some teeth. It seemed as though she was “gumming” whatever she had in her mouth. On one occasion she became very upset at another Doe who had entered the yard. I wasn’t sure that she could see who or what the other Doe was. Suddenly she ran at full speed toward the other Doe, while letting out the loudest and longest “hissing” noise I’ve ever heard. That display would have run ME out of the yard. I was amazed at how protective she was of her slowly shrinking world. The other Doe didn’t argue the point and hurried off.
It used to be that whenever I called Missy Tags, she would hurry to see me, always expecting a treat. Now she could only slowly make her way over to get her apple pieces, but she would rarely finish them as she struggled to chew them. Late one evening I saw Missy Tags standing very still in the lower “outlot” part of the yard. The outlot was downhill and at the South edge of the property, and we had left it mostly as we found it, because the deer enjoyed the wild grasses and bushes that grew there. Her ears were drooped, her head was hanging low and these were not good signs. Sadly, the next morning she lay dead under her favorite evergreen tree. I hadn’t known Missy even a full year but we had connected and I was deeply saddened by her loss. Yet her suffering had ended in a natural manner. I was honored that she had chosen my yard to die in. Before the wildlife officials came to pick her up, I sat with her and petted her beautiful reddish-brown fur for the first time, my tears soaking into her lifeless form. When they came to take her away, somewhat unceremoniously dragging her across the ground, I said my final good-byes and tried very hard to keep my composure. We hadn’t known each other very long but we were friends and I will miss her very much. Even years later, as I write this, I get very misty. Thank you Missy Tags, for the short but beautiful time we had with you.
It was several days after Missy Tags passing before we saw any deer at all, let alone Tags. I always envisioned that the others knew and kept a respectful distance for a respectful amount of time. After all, this Doe was a Queen and was always shown a great deal of respect by all the other deer, including the bucks who ventured into “her” yard.
It was also that spring that a new fawn came into our lives. “Cry Baby” was born on the other side of a chain link fence at the South edge of the “outlot.” We had noticed a doe standing still for what must have been several hours, and we had no idea why. We made many trips to the window that day, to check on the “standing still” Doe. We missed the actual birth, but not by much. We were able to observe the new mother bathing her wobbly newborn. What excitement there was that day, being so close to the birth of a new life.
The name “crybaby” came from the fact that the mother would leave her newborn for hours at a time, and cry baby bawled for most of “Momma’s” away time. It sounded much like a lamb’s cry, and it had an unsettling effect. We frequently wondered whether Momma was ever coming back, but she always did. Far too many fawns are “rescued” each year by well meaning folks who find newborns seemingly abandoned. They just don’t realize how these things work and as a result many fawns are needlessly separated from their mothers. It took many weeks before “Cry Baby” decided that bawling was not going to change anything. Many times a small herd of Does and their yearlings came by and were very curious about this newborn. We were always concerned that they would disturb Cry Baby and trigger the bawling again. Sometimes that actually happened, and we wondered if “Cry Baby” would wander off with the herd passing through. But “Cry Baby always waited for his Momma and obediently stayed within the bounds somehow invisibly set for him. As “Cry Baby” grew, we saw less and less of him (or was it a her)? As the fawns grow, the Does seem to keep them on the move.