Yesterday I worked at stacking newly split logs on the woodpile, a chore I always enjoy. The freshly exposed heartwood smells pungent -- along with the standard foresty scent, this particular oak also had pronounced hints of coriander and musk -- and constructing a column that will not only withstand wind and snow but allows for airflow to dry the firewood requires geometric calculations that challenge without being too taxing. The afternoon was cool and bug-free and I was pleasantly absorbed in my task. I think I even sang to myself -- quietly since I'm notorious for not being able to carry a tune.
"Hey!" The voice, high-pitched like an adolescent girl, startled me. It was coming from the lakeshore. Our nearest neighbor lives along the lake but he and his extended family are pathologically dependent on ATVs to cover even the most minimal distances. I glanced toward the lake through the thick underbrush but saw nothing. Convinced that the voice was a product of my imagination, I picked up another bunch of sticks.
"Hey!" The voice was more insistent this time, almost a bleat. I still could see nothing among the heavy growth in the understory. I abandoned the firewood and headed for the lake to investigate.
At the edge of the cabin clearing in a tangle of alder and blueberry bushes, I found a fawn, standing with his unsure legs spread and braced as if it had been waiting for me to discover him. The little creature stared up at me, its fearless brown eyes huge and liquid and impatient.
The fawn was just a slip of a thing, probably only a day or two out of the womb. Its legs were so long and spindly that the abrupt torso appeared to be balanced on the back of some kind of four-legged wading bird, a mutant sandhill crane or heron. In the sunlight, the fawn's fur glowed a rich golden color, the spots like bursts of sunlight. And the face: ears alert, eyes limpid and still without a trace of fear in them. That face was perfect in every way except for the nose, from which bristled half a dozen or more gray and white porcupine quills.
From the time I was a kid, I've acknowledged one immutable rule in dealing with wild animal babies: never touch them. No matter how cute or helpless they may appear, the mother is always somewhere near and lingering traces of human scent might cause her to abandon her offspring entirely. But this situation seemed to pose an exception to that rule. The mother was nowhere in sight. She might have already abandoned the poor little fawn when he attempted to nurse: those quills would poke at her teat like a face full of needles.
I looked into the fawn's desperate eyes and tears welled up in my own. I imagined the little sprite of a thing, totally new to life, exploring his world: too innocent and without reference to suspect that the slow-moving creature that looked like a mess of pine needles lumped together could actually pose a threat. And now the fawn's mother was gone: the fawn was probably hungry, his nose hurt, and he was begging for help from the first living thing that he saw. And that living thing was me.
Gritting my teeth against my desire, I turned my back to the fawn and strode toward the woodpile. The fawn followed me. But he didn't exactly follow me: where I walked, he scampered. Even with his nose liberally studded with porcupine quills, the little guy was as playful as a pup. My resolve to let nature run its course evaporated. I sank to my knees and opened my arms to the fawn. Fearlessly, he bounced into my lap.
Once settled, the fawn's body became the essence of peace. The only muscle movement that I could detect was the beating of the tiny heart, which I traced in the fluttering movement of the skin below his front leg on the left side of his ribs. It wasn't just his body's stillness: the creature seemed in absolute repose, trusting and without a trace of fear. Again, I felt like crying.
I sat with the poor child huddled in my lap, stroking his side and murmuring to him. I told myself that I was doing this to calm him but from the instant that the creature had sunk into my arms, he'd been in repose. I prolonged the moment for my own satisfaction. I wanted the physical sensations -- the fawn's warmth, its shallow breaths, its soft but slightly wiry fur -- to be imprinted on my body for the rest of my life. I wanted those sensory impressions to infiltrate my brain, my heart, my soul, my dreams. I wanted to be able to recall every nuance of this scene in the same way that I replay the words of a monumental conversation, to deposit these sensations into my catalog of memories as firmly and immutably as my social security number or the ability to read. But feelings aren't facts, they aren’t concrete, and I knew that what would remain with me would only be a ghost, a shadow of the moment. And so I lingered, my hand on the scrawny, caramel-colored flank, for much longer that I should have. After all, the poor thing did have a nose full of porcupine quills.
My last dog was famous -- or perhaps infamous -- for her numerous and repeated bouts with porcupines: no matter how many times she was stuck with quills, the instinct to attack always overrode her memory of the inevitable pain that would follow. So I've had lots of experience extracting quills from noses. This little fawn was so trusting that, one arm encircling and steadying his body, I was able to pluck the offending quills from his nose with my bare hand. There was resistance, of course, but the spines weren't embedded at deeply as in a dog's snout: the fawn probably hadn't tried to attack the porcupine, only investigate it. The quills came out with a firm yank and after each the little body in my arms jerked slightly and then let out a soft moan. The fawn never squirmed or tried to escape. I pulled out a half-dozen quills, the total weighing a gram at most: it's hard to believe that something that unsubstantial could have been the source of so much pain.
Once all of the quills were out, I rubbed my fingertips across the fawn's muzzle to make sure that no quills had worked deeper into the tissue. The bare black skin on the nose was dry and I wondered if the little guy was dehydrated: are deer like dogs and when healthy they sport wet noses? While I was pondering this question, the fawn's tiny pink tongue snaked out of its mouth to lick my hand.
No matter how hungry or thirsty this fawn was, I knew that the more attention I gave it, the less chance it would have of reuniting with its mother. I embraced the beautiful thing one last time, my right hand directly over the calm flutter of its heart, then I gently pushed the fawn away from me, rose, and hurried toward the cabin.
"Hey!" the fawn bleated after me.
I clamped my jaw tight to hold in my heart and didn't look back.
After I'd disappeared inside the cabin, the fawn pranced back and forth for several minutes, crying. He circled the house twice but then -- seeming satisfied -- he returned to the clump of alders and blueberries where I'd found him. Folding his stilt-like legs beneath him, he lay down. I peeked out the window to check on him several times during the afternoon and evening. Once he was nibbling at a bracken fern just to the right of his nose. Another time his head was up and alert, ears pricked as if he was listening. Towards sunset, he lay curled with his head resting on his flank and those beautiful, liquid, brown eyes closed.
And this morning he was gone.
Causes Louise Young Supports
articulation of indigenous rights (organization: Cultural Survival)
sustainable, renewable, and independent energy sources