Deer Radiate Pure Freedom

The view from Hinsdale Brook’s southern bank behind my home — between the cook-shed, where I feed my dogs daily, and their kennel — covers maybe 100 yards north before coming to an abrupt halt at a narrow, 15-foot-high, wooded spine climbing west and obscuring a small, hollowed-out sand pit behind it.

There, while feeding my dogs a little late at noon Friday, unfolded a sight I have seen many times from a deer stand and a few times from that very spot. Such sightings never get old. That’s why I’m always alert when standing there, waiting for the dogs to finish eating, taking in the calming, soothing melody of the stream’s rattle.

Anyone who has hunted deer with a gun or camera has borne witness to this beautiful sight. First, subtle movement blending into the backdrop. Second, identification of legs, then the torso of the deer belonging to them, then the slight twitching of a tail, perking of ears, on total alert. I love to watch deer move through their habitat. Whether they suspect your presence or not, it’s the same cautions, graceful movement. Single file they pass, first one, then another, and another and another, the lead deer stopping spaced in line, attentive to the others following while scanning the terrain for danger. This time there were six. Some big, others small, all devoting full attention to their surroundings.

I knew they had heard me as they surely have many times before when they remained undetected. Deer grow to recognize environments within their range where they pass often and are never bothered. This is such a place, through my neighbor’s posted backyard, where they know they can feed in the hayfield without harassment, even within spitting distance of the home’s windows. Plus, obviously, they know my dogs are there, and they also know that they’re no threat, even at close range in the dark of night. I’ve seen their tracks follow my snowblower’s path within 10 or 15 feet of the kennel, yet never so much as a bark from Lily or Chubby. The deer and dogs have learned to coexist without commotion. Too bad humans have such a hard time duplicating this process of living with one and other and sidestepping potential conflict. Yes, these days it seems Nature’s way is seldom our chosen path. We’re of a law-and-order ilk, bellicose and belligerent, ready to raise a ruckus and put up our dukes before attempting a diplomatic resolution. Sad but true. Just look at what we have elected to run our country. That pretty much says it all. Like the old cigarette commercial used to say, all of them “would rather fight than switch.”

Not deer. They try to avoid confrontation and are instinctively more than capable of doing so. That day out by the brook, I spoke softly to those six deer in a warm, friendly voice. They knew I was there, heard the initial commotion of me greeting the hungry dogs and likely froze before cautiously advancing in an attempt to secretly skirt me. Nope, not this time. I wanted them to know I was there and said, “It’s OK, kids, I won’t hurt you. I just like to watch your quiet gait and athletic grace.”

They stopped, lifted their heads, cupped their erect ears toward me and froze, all six facing me broadside, tails still as daybreak air. What a picture, six deer of various sizes frozen like statues, senses fine-tuned to the max. The distance between the first and last of those deer was about, oh, say 50 yards, maybe a little less. They didn’t seem too alarmed, just cautious, all partially camouflaged by trees and brush. They know my voice and whistle, have heard it often, both from my yard and along my daily walking path a half mile east and little south, down along the Green River, where we share hayfields, swamps and a couple Christmas-tree fields, one small, one large. One high, one low.

I have many times seen deer through my back windows following the trees lining the opposite bank of Hinsdale Brook, which feeds the Green River over by the old Polish Picnic grounds. Just downstream and behind my neighbor’s home, they actually go under the bridge and show themselves to my neighbors across Green River Road. They are also often spotted through the back windows of folks living on the north side of Meadow Lane. Deer are creatures of habit, this group safe because no one hunts residential neighborhoods, minus the occasional bowhunter slithering into a stand unannounced and totally quiet, even when he or she takes a shot. Then again, I can’t imagine a bowhunting meat-hunter or two haven’t let fly right off their decks in such suburban neighbohoods where deer are a problem.

It won’t be long before some of those deer I spoke to last week sprout summer antlers as the does tend to spring fawns I’ll get to know. Other times, during my nighttime travels home from work, I’ll have occasional sightings of two, three or even four bucks feeding together in hayfields close to the road. Among them will likely be that big buck I came to know last fall and into the winter, bumping him twice up close and personal while walking the dogs in broad daylight during deer season.

It’s a cycle of wildlife I love to watch. Though by choice I no longer hunt them, I still love watching deer. I try to understand their habits, predict their movements, report interesting observations to hunter friends who share my interest.

Just Tuesday night I prepared about a pound of carefully butchered, gifted venison stew meat from a 5-point Vermont buck. I started by seasoning the meat with salt, pepper, garlic and rosemary in its freezer-wrap package, adding flour and shaking it before searing the chunks in hot bacon fat, then simmering it in French onion soup in a covered Griswold skillet all afternoon on the stove. On my may to work that evening, I took the pan off the cook stove and placed it on a trivet atop the soapstone wood stove, where it warmed until midnight. Then I removed it and let it cool some before placing it overnight in the refrigerator.

Served over egg noodles Wednesday night before work, it was superb. Tasty and tender. Healthy, too. Not a sliver of fat. I love venison and deer, hold the utmost respect for them and enjoy watching them.

If ever hungry and fallen on hard times, I’m confident I could put food on my table. I hope it never comes to that. Then again, maybe it would be the best thing that could happen to man like me, one devoted to something I long ago learned about in college philosophy class. It’s called individual sovereignty, a noble way indeed, and one that’s more and more difficult to live in the modern world.

Look it up. It’s vaguely synonymous with autonomy … and another dirty A word that once could get a man hanged here, and still could in places where real freedom is frowned upon as dangerous, seditious individualism.

If you want to see freedom at its finest, study a small herd of deer moving through their place. They’re governed by nature, the grandest of all deities.

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