They come out of nowhere, tripping their nearly silent way from west to east across the frozen bracken, surefooted on the snow blanketing marshland ice. Three of them, one after another, delicate heads sloping from alerted ears, soft eyes flicking to where I stand, motionless, held in the magic of this moment.
I knew there were deer here: months ago we watched a doe nibble on the autumn foliage at the edge of this wetland pocketed between our house and those across the road. We watched her and marveled and thought perhaps a salt lick might lure more of them to the same place.
These doe are not here for salt, but they have wandered across backyards and through the trees and across the roads to wind up here, heads poised and alert to sense danger and trigger flight.
Ironic, really, that it is here in the midst of concrete and complexes where they face the dangers of engine-hearted monsters and sometimes poisoned ground that they also find safety. No hunting here, even when in season.
They have adapted, really, as have so many other creatures of wood and field. They have learned that even in the lands of human twisting there are places of refuge, safety, and food. The marshlands are such, protected by practicality as well as jurisprudence from the depredations of developers. No doubt they have learned that humans grow food in small plots as well as large. My friend Jim curses creatures such as these, nature's thieves who strip his garden despite fences.
I remember a nighttime walk a lifetime ago, it seems, when I was young and in angst and wandering the complex where I lived with--oh, I don't even remember which college roommate any longer, and I came across a fat raccoon raiding the garbage dump. They're the ones perhaps best adapted to this suburban life--well, other than the truly domesticated animals like dogs and cats, and the so-called vermin like mice and rats and cockroaches. We are less alone than we like to think, we high and mighty humans.
I sat upon the fence some fifteen feet away and watched him. He sat and watched me back, this furry bandit poised on corrugated metal, a piece of (to a raccoon) mouthwatering delicacy clutched in clever hands. After some time, he decided I wasn't planning on interfering with his feast, and he returned to rummaging and munching, sorting and tasting. He seemed almost human, working there, those amazing paws more like hands in their agility and sensitivity. A rotund little drifter, salvaging treasure from wealthier men's leavings.
We do that, you know. We humans. We cast the guise of humanity over all we see, seeing ourselves in the creatures inhabiting the world around us. What if it is more properly the reverse? We are outnumbered, after all. It makes more logical sense that we take on the attributes of those we see in nature, picking this and that, imitating family function and social construct and interpersonal (ah, but there is that word person there) relationship.
Or, perhaps, we all hold elements of each other in ourselves. We are born of one world, one earth, one all-encompassing macrocosm that contains all the millions and billions of microcosms like atoms and molecules and compounds summing up the whole of one being...
My nose is running slightly in the cold, and I sniff quietly. The largest doe's ears flicker again, and slowly all three move through the clearing, enter the brush on the far side, and vanish from my sight.