Return of the Black Tailed Deer

Spring is in the air and the deer seem to know it.

We got to know “our” black tailed deer during the past year.  We enjoyed their visits each morning and evening as we became accustomed to mountain life and our new surroundings.  We got to know the regulars – three bucks we named Scratcher, Kicker, and Chester – and the occasional doe who would follow behind in an appropriate amount of distance based on pecking order.

In early summer we gushed when a spotted fawn accompanied a doe and the three bucks down for breakfast.  We watched in awe as the bucks antlers grew and made these mature males look all the more powerful and glorious.  We mourned the loss of Gimpy, the buck with a broken leg, who we found him dead on our property in early Fall not far from our driveway.  He was an older buck who hobbled along on a three legs for at least a few years (per the previous property owners) and apparently died of old age and not because of his injury that he seemed to manage relatively well given the circumstances.

In Fall hunting season is followed by rutting which drive the deer away from the Golden K with only an occasional visit by a stray buck.  The mostly absence of deer throughout Winter was striking and I missed them.  I wondered where they went, how they were doing, and if they would return back to the Golden K.

And then they did. Last weekend our black tailed beauties returned home in full force.

There were antler-less bucks with foreheads sporting only sockets where their magnificent antlers once were but fell off in the last month or so.  There were does, skinny and hungry and presumably preparing for birth later this spring or early summer.  And there were the yearlings.  Small and skinny but healthy “kids” who survived the winter when the majority of their peers have perished.  Fawn mortality rate runs between 50% and 70%.

So as Spring begins friends of the Golden K have returned much to our joy and anticipation.  Anticipation of more fawns, more grand buck antlers, and continued health and prosperity that all  creatures- man or beast – hope to experience and be blessed upon by Mother Nature.

It’s been almost a year since we arrived at the Golden K.  The return of the black Tailed have Deer reinforced the circle of life and most notably my romantic perspective of life at 3100 feet.

 

Back To The Earth

It was like any other morning when Kali and I took the walk down our long driveway and onto the road to get the newspaper.  The newspaper tubes hang along a wooden rail, several in a row for about a dozen homes nearby. It’s quite different than suburbia where your paper is delivered to your door stoop or driveway.  So most mornings Kali and I make the trek down onto the road, take in the sights and smells, grab the paper, and then head up the back side of our property and “take the long way home”.

So Tuesday was not much different than so many other mornings since we moved to the Golden K five months ago.  The air was colder, the ground a little damp from recent rains (thank the Lord for rain!), and I noticed a lot of mud backing up in the drainage ditch.  So as we opened the farm gate I unclipped Kali’s leash and I diverted slightly to take stock of the mud and what I might need to do to clear it out.  I surveyed the drains as Kali foraged and waited patiently  to head up the hill towards the gravel road that circles The Golden K.

A sound of rustling caught my attention.  I looked over and saw a large buck trying to right itself from a laying position.  Kali and I had obviously disturbed the deer, who I initially thought was simply nesting,  and all three of us were a caught off guard.  Kali ran toward the buck barking.  I immediately called to Kali to come back fearing the buck would kick her which could be fateful.  I don’t know if it was all the years of recall training that paid off or if Kali became frightened.  But thankfully she came running back to me.  I clipped on her leash and we headed quickly up the hill towards the house.

My main concern was to get Kali under control and out of harms way.  The deer are regular visitors and have never demonstrated any aggression to any of us including the dogs who from time to time will bark at them behind a fence or through the windows of the house.  But this buck was obviously under duress and I was taking no chances especially with Kali under tow.  As we headed up the hill I looked back to see the Buck still partially down leaning on his front legs motionless and staring at us.

It was the posture of the buck that made me realize he was the deer we fondly called Gimpy.  Gimpy because he had a broken leg and hobbled around on his three good legs.  We hadn’t seen him regularly like the other bucks who make daily visits.   But we had seen him enough to know he was surviving and seemingly very healthy in spite of being crippled. In fact he was the largest of the bucks and probably the oldest.   I now realized why he hadn’t simply bounced off when we we startled him.  He couldn’t.

The image of Gimpy’s piercing black eyes staring back at Kali and I as we moved up the hill stuck with  throughout the day.   Under normal circumstances I would assume that he recovered and moved along his way once we were out of sight.  But my instincts told me otherwise.  So later that afternoon I walked down to see if he was still there.  He was. He had settled himself into a laying position and I stood along the our fence staring back from about 25 feet away.

That was Tuesday afternoon.  Wednesday morning he was still there.  I wanted to believe that this was his new nesting spot and that he was out and about throughout the day.  But I knew better.  I watched him lay motionless staring at me for a few minutes and walked back up the hill.  Wednesday afternoon same thing – he was still there.  I knew that Gimpy was waiting to die and this was the spot he chose to do that. As I walked off I looked his way and made the sign of the cross like I still do when my children or Holly drive off.  A hold over from my Catholic upbringing and my mom who always did the same for me.

Thursday morning I left before sunrise to head to the Bay Area for the day. As I drove past where Gimpy had been I thought of stopping and getting out with my flashlight to see if he was there. But why, I thought and continued to drive on.  Holly text me about 10:00 that morning with a picture of Gimpy, now with his head on the ground.  He was dead.

As I arrived home Thursday afternoon the sun was low in the sky, the air was calm, and the ground was damp from rain earlier in the day.  It smelled and looked beautiful. One of my favorite times living up here on the hill is arriving back at The GK after a day down in the crazy Bay Area.  I pulled over along the fence, got out of the truck and stood by the fence staring at Gimpy.  It made me sad to see him lying there dead.  But it also made me a little happy to know after suffering for some time that suffering was over, and hopefully his spirit was at peace as his body returned back to the earth.

I stood there for about five minutes to, if nothing else, pay my respect.  This grand buck, even with three legs,  was  a majestic animal and part of this hill for for much longer than me.  I was honored to have known him from afar.

Before I turned back to my truck I took one last look at Gimpy and made the sign of the cross.  As I drove up the road and onto our driveway I felt peaceful and happy to be back home at The Golden K.

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Back To the Earth at The Golden K

 

 

Living Amongst Beauty and Nature

After two months living in the Foothills the Black Tailed Deer have become an extended part of our Golden K family. The most prominent are three bucks who come down twice a day; first thing in the morning and again in the late afternoon.  Because we’re silly humans (and suburbanite transplants still giddy at the fact that the deer come to “visit”)  we named the three bucks within the first few days of moving in.

The smallest and presumably youngest of the three bucks is called Kicker because of his propensity to kick the other two out of the way.  We call the medium size buck Buddy after a friend with the same nickname who is a very slow and deliberate person.  He never seems to be in a hurray to get anywhere.  The first few times we watched this buck he seemed to lallygag his way down and back up the hill, taking his time and stopping often to just look around.  And so he quickly became Buddy.  Finally there’s Scratcher who is the largest of the three.  He’s named Scratcher because he scratches his back and butt much more than the other deer.  All three bucks have beautiful antlers but Scratcher’s are the largest and most magnificent.

It’s been interesting to see how comfortable these creatures have become with us.  I’m sure it helps that they know we put out Dry Cob – a mixture of Corn, Oats and Barley typically used for horses – in their trough twice a day.  But as the days have passed they are quite comfortable holding their ground as I walk up to the fill the trough.   In some cases I have to shoo them up the hill a ways to give me space.  I don’t want to be “that suburbanite who moved to the mountains and got his ass kicked by a deer because he got too close..”  Especially as their testosterone levels begin to rise in preparation for rutting season.

More recently a doe has been coming down with the bucks.  She keeps her distance from them, is more skittish of us, and rarely get’s a chance to eat.  Occasionally after the bucks have had their fill and moved on we’ll go out to put out a scoop of cob for the doe who has kept her distance from us but has also kept her eye on us.  She’ll soon come down to eat.  Oddly, we haven’t named the doe perhaps because she’s not a regular at this point.

At this point I can’t imagine the fascination with wildlife and nature ever waning.  I wake up each morning and go to bed each night in amazement.  It’s am incredible experience to step outside shortly after dawn to let the dogs out and take in a deep breath and smell the clean air an scents from the pines.  Similarly when I head inside for the the evening the air is cool once again and I find myself taking another deep breath this time as a way to say thank you for these blessings and that Holly and I are able to live amongst so much beauty and nature.