Where the Wild Things Are

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The advantage of staying in the middle of nowhere is that you get to see things you’d never get to see otherwise.

In the suburbs, I never see deer. Deer-sized squirrels, maybe, but never deer. Here, in the gated mountain neighborhood where we’re staying, deer are everywhere. It’s protected area, and they know it. There are too many people living on the mountain to justify permitting hunting. The deer population is allowed to do as it chooses.

When we first visited here when I was 11, a deer sighting was a rare event. I’d always ride in the car with my face pressed up against the glass, scanning the woods for the flash of a white tail, the curve of a graceful brown neck. We’d see one deer, maybe two at the most. And you could forget about them coming up to the house.

This year, however, enough generations of deer have been raised under the knowledge that people won’t hurt them that they’ll wander out in the open, in broad daylight, going about their deery business. We saw five of them by our back porch today: a yearling buck, four does, and a tiny fawn that scampered about in the shadows. My mother tossed corn at them from the porch steps as they watched her warily, but without real fear.

I realize that deer are common creatures. We hunt them. They taste good. In numbers too great, they can damage a local ecosystem and become pests that destroy crops intended for human consumption, not for the nibblings of wild tings. Hence the hunting. There is nothing really that exceptional about seeing one. Not around here. They’re as common as squirrels.

But they are so beautiful. They carry themselves with almost unearthly grace. Their eyes are wide and fathomlessly dark with long lashes that lend humanness to their elegant faces. Their bodies are sleek, their hides the color of autumn. Their females are vigilant, their males protective. No wonder legends tell of fairies and wood elves riding through the forests on the backs of deer.

Some people go on vacation to have an excuse to watch untold hours of television or lose themselves in a mountain of books. While I have been losing myself in the book that I brought to read on this trip, I find greater delight in sitting on the porch, watching the forest’s residents silently treading the hidden highways beneath me.

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