A natural wildlife corridor crosses our land, a sometimes-grassy space, open and sunny, a sometimes-woodsy space, protected and dark. It begins we-do-not-know-where, over that hill past the vineyard, perhaps near the deer thicket, the fox den, the coyote camp, the possum hole. It comes at us along a steep grade, within sight of the sunroom, and disappears down the hill, ending we-do-not-know-where. I imagine it circling a corn source, a meat market, the reservoir.
When I look out the sunroom window, I see a path from a vague beginning to a vague ending. Like a life. We’re all distributed along it.
The deer pick a careful path along the corridor – the four does, the eight-point buck that covers them, and their spotted fauns. The fox plays along the corridor as if it is his, cat-like, sweet-faced. The coyote sniffs his way in stealth, and he is thin and leggy. The possum scampers from rock shelter to an overhang under the rhododendrom.
Only the lame doe stays close.
I saw her last year along the corridor, keeping up with the small herd, limping along, always last in the watchful line. When alerted, the herd would leap logs and rustle through the bushes along the path, leaving the lame doe to make her own way. I’d watch her from the sunroom, viewing her as almost human, and wish her courage and tolerance of pain, as I would wish myself.
I see her as resilient and brave, taking to her life alone, compensating, without complaint.
This year, I see her more often. She is alone, favoring the woodsy space, protected and dark, within sight of the sunroom. And the patch of grassy backyard where the rhododendrons grow tall and wide and lush.
It’s her front left leg. Caught in an unseen hole? Shot by a careless hunter? Wounded by a hungry coyote? It doesn’t matter: she limps. If she could travel with the herd, she would. If she could cry out, she might. But she seems to be making do – her coat is smooth, her bones do not stick out, her eyes are alert, those ears work, and that white tail. I see her as resilient and brave, taking to her life alone, compensating, without complaint.
It’s winter again, and we are older. The berries are gone, and the leaves from the deciduous trees. My husband looks out into the yard. “It’s time to hang Irish Spring on the rhododendrons again,” he says. Let’s back up a moment: that strong-smelling soap protects our rhodys from deer that would otherwise strip them of leaves as far up as they can reach, leaving bare limbs with leafy crowns.
Last week, late at night, we pulled up into the driveway, the headlights shining across the backyard. There she was at the rhodys, alone, her head up and still, her eyes reflecting her silent attention, but unafraid. Up off the ground she held her left front leg. She limped away slowly, favoring the woodsy space, protected and dark.
Over time, nature may favor the fit, but I’m a sucker for the isolated and brave. I postpone the soap project.
photo credit: mary k. baird