It has been difficult for me to look out the back for the deer that feed in the bald spot of my yard where I put corn most nights. The three-footed, palomino-colored doe, that seemed to have twins almost every year, was hit by a car in March. I was visiting my parents and my husband called with the news. Our young friend Vince, who feeds the deer and raccoons when we are away, confirmed it was her. He, who used to tease me about hunting deer in my woods while I was away, won’t even broach the subject of this loss with me, knowing how I marveled at her ability to get around, especially when she was heavy with foal.
She went from being chased away by older females with babies, as a juvenile in 2005, when we first moved to Evansridge, to being the alpha female of her little herd. I lost track of her babies once they were no longer yearlings, but the females always bring their fawns to feed at the site in the back. Occasionally, her boys would show, small, adolescent racks crowning their still young heads.
I know in the circle of life, there is a beginning and an end. We have been reminded of that a lot this year. I have been blessed with her presence for almost seven years. I watched her bring her babies to feed, so they would know where to bring the next generation of babies. Evansridge will be less it’s matriarch, but I think I know which one of her daugthers is going to rule the heard next. If I’m right, she’s a huge tan colored beauty and a fitting tribute to her mother.
There is something primal about a fire. The smell of wood burning. The crackle of a fire in the night’s chilled air. The light and the heat. I am sitting in front of my first wood fire on my patio. I am watching the wood burn and flames dance. There is, what my granddaughters call, a “Colby cheese” moon, rising over the stand of pines into a star studded sky. Dogs in the neighborhood are barking and cars returning from who knows where, sound in the distance. My cats, Papi and Sister, have scattered, not knowing what to make of the new sounds, smell and appearance of the flames in this firebowl.
The deer I feed every night passed through, but the fire and smoke were new to them and they did not linger to eat. Minutes later, I heard them come back, hunger getting the best of them. I could see only their outlines in the inky night, but I counted five deer. Three adults and the twins of the three-footed doe. I heard what I thought were the cats, in the yard near the edge of the patio and I called out to them. Imagine my surprise to see the white border around the eyes of one of the new generation of raccoon that I feed. Apparently, the smoke and fire were not deterrents to the meal routine of these, the newest residents of Evansridge, but I was, as they turned tail and headed back to the safety of the night.
I remember when we came back from the Philippines, my grandparents butchered a pig in the back of their house and made carnitas outside in a caldron. Dark night, lights strung in the large tree in the back, lighting the area where the pig hung by its back hoofs, the caldron lit with a wood fire. Fast forward twenty years, camping trips with in the Shasta Mountain camp grounds, campfires lighting the night and taking the significant chill out of the air. Nothing like a campfire to coax you from your warm sleeping bag and tent for some fireside coffee. I wasn’t raised in the country, and I did not camp in the outdoor again, after one particular lively camping experience with a co-worker and our daughters in the Cuyamaca campgrounds in the foothills east of San Diego. (That experience is another blog!) Not long after that experience, I was in Oceanside, packing to move us to North Carolina when Chester called me to tell me he found a place for us to move into. You will love it, he said, it has windows with large area, almost like window seats, he told me. It has two and a half bathrooms and a large kitchen. But, he told me, best of all, it has a wood fireplace. That wood fireplace was not just our ambiance in the unexpected cold of the fall and winter, but when we lost power in two major events; a snow storm our first winter in North Carolina and a 100-year ice storm a couple of years later, we lost power for hours in the first even, and days in the second. It was our only source of heat each time, and so my affinity for a wood fire, is much more than a play on the senses. Having an outdoor firebowl, I realize, is a luxury. However, I sat outside for three hours, never turning on the tv, made no phone calls, sent no texts or updates to Facebook, after the initial one about having an outdoor firebowl… just me, the fire, and the night.
I grew up and lived most of my life on the West Coast. I lived in rural northern California as a young mom. Having always considered myself a “city girl”, I developed an appreciation for agriculture, farming and the processing of field crops, we later find on our store’s shelves. That appreciation of country stayed with me, when twenty years later I met my husband. He was retired military and had recently been rated a disability for his post traumatic stress. He had lived in California for several years, both in the military and as a civilian in Orange County area, but he said California was “too brown”. He wanted to move to the “green” of North Carolina. He had been born there, but had not lived there for twenty years. We decided after we married to make a leap of faith and move. I fell in love with the change of seasons, the colors of the trees when fall came, the lushness of spring and summer. I had never seen so many shades of green, nor ever such a brilliant green as when in spring the new grass and leaves have sprouted. I even loved the snow until I was stranded at home in two feet of it and no electricity!
We lived in a huge three bedroom apartment for seven years, but the house on the development called “Evans Ridge” was a dream come true for me. We move into our new home on July 22, 2005. I didn’t even realize until the day of closing that the house was on three acres. After the closing, I remember we went into the empty house for the first time as homeowners and sat on the carpet, looked at each other and started laughing. We never went back to our apartment to sleep. The furniture we had purchased was to be delivered that day…a new sofa, a breakfast table and chairs and a new refrigerator. The sofa was “L” shaped sectional and for that night and the next, we each took a side. The first night, I woke up to hear my husband chuckling…he was standing at the dining room window and I asked him what was so funny. He told me to join him. He pointed out onto the property…a half-acre was cleared for the house and “yard”, the remaining two and one half-acre was left with the woods intact…on the front lawn were two deer eating what little grass was coming up. “They live here” he told me.
I started feeding “our deer” the following year, hoping they would leave my rose bushes and fruit trees I tried to plant alone. They didn’t. I put corn out into the woods, not far from the edge of the lawn and would watch from the bedroom as the deer would gather. Later in the summer, they brought their fawns and we delighted in seeing them romp in the back yard, carefree and unencumbered with the vigilance that their mothers displayed.
I noticed we had a lame doe feeding and being chased away from the feed by other doe. In the weeks that followed, I noticed the doe was missing a hoof, her left hoof. I also noticed, when I inadvertently went outside while they were feeding, she had no problem bolting with the other deer.
In 2006 my husband told me our three-footed doe was pregnant. That summer she brought her twins to feed where she was feeding. The doe with her at the time, we believed to be a daughter from two years before.
I feed racoons, and this year one of the moms had five babies!
The blessing for me is to have wildlife thriving in my woods. It is a wonder to watch the years go by and the deer have babies and then the babies have babies and they all seem to gravitate back to where they know there is food. There have been deer hit by cars over these years and it’s heartbreaking for me to see. Then, I marvel at the strength of our three footed mamas to carry two babies on her three feet and survive. I may not have fruit trees in my acreage, and I had to move the rose bushes closer to the house, but the trade-off is to walk out my back door and see mamas resting on the grass, rise to her feet, and watch me while I leave corn for her.