I crest the rise at the Twisted Tree and a view into the low, meadowy swale opens before me like a favorite book to a often-read passage. The evening sun elongates images, and the deer in the swale appear spider-like, their long-legged shadows keening toward the mountains and the wilderness to the east. I count nine animals in the meadow, all whitetails. Mule deer and whitetails intermingle in this area-- grazing side by side the grayer mulies dwarf the delicate-boned whitetails -- but in the past few years whitetail numbers have been increasing. I think this is a result of unnatural selection: fall hunters -- humans -- prefer the larger bodies and beefier taste of the mulies.
When I first see them, the deer are spread out, each with a cushion of about an acre separating it from its companions. I stand about two hundred yards away, and from here I can see antlers on several of the deer. With little human hunting pressure, whitetail bucks in our meadow have been developing spectacular racks: five or more points on each antler isn't uncommon. The racks on these deer are still in velvet and the late sun converts them into golden haloes as the bucks raise their heads and glance around.
They're nervous: most have stopped browsing and individuals drift with deliberate nonchalance toward each other, the herd bunching up in the lowest, grassiest part of the swale. The wind is at my back and I wonder if the deer have scented me or the dogs. But they haven't spooked, they're not running -- at least not yet.
Now that they're together, I can see that almost all of the deer have antlers. This time of year, bucks will usually chum with other bucks while the does and fawns form groups of their own. Things will change in a month or so when the velvet's gone from these antlers and hormones from the rut swell the bucks' necks. Then the big guys will run themselves silly trying to breed as many does as possible, establishing dominance, putting the run on smaller bucks, defending their harems against all threats, real and imagined. A whitetail buck's dominance is fleeting, usually only a single season. Winter follows hard after the rut, and the exhausted bucks often succumb to cold and hunger after months of breeding stress.
The deer in the meadow in front of me are still nervous, stagy. They're bunch up tight now. Not one of them has looked toward the Twisted Tree: I am not what’s upsetting them. I see one deer, smaller than the others and without an apparent rack of antlers -- it could be a doe but might also be a spiked young buck -- that flits among the bigger bucks. I watch this deer carefully and notice that it is shadowed by a smaller body: I immediately assume a fawn trailing a doe. The other deer -- the bigger bucks -- stand impassive and indifferent but alert while the nervous deer weaves between them trailing a shadowy creature half the size of the others. I have never seen a doe with a fawn among a bachelor herd of bucks.
Suddenly, the nervous deer bolts away from the cluster of bucks, galloping across the swale directly toward me, with what I had assumed to be her fawn at her heels. But now I see that the smaller animal -- the fawn -- is gray and its body doesn't gallop like a deer, it lopes with the gait of a predator. It's a coyote.
The coyote chases the small deer for about a hundred yards, effortlessly keeping at its heels but then, apparently convinced that this deer isn't weak enough to serve as easy prey, the predator peels off toward the scattered trees along the east side of the swale. The instant that the coyote stops harrying it, the small deer executes an abrupt U-turn and gallops back to join the rest of the herd. The bucks resume their browsing as if nothing out of the ordinary has just occurred. Their shadows, long-legged and spider-like, intermingle into a confused mass that lengthens as the sun sinks, stretching like a hand toward the clumps of limber pine and douglas fir on the east slope of the swale, and toward the coyote -- the predator -- that lives among them.
Causes Louise Young Supports
articulation of indigenous rights (organization: Cultural Survival)
sustainable, renewable, and independent energy sources