We often encounter deer on our morning walks and today was no different. What was different was their response.
She stomped her foot as she stared at me from the hill above the road. Her eyes met mine and never waivered. I noticed a flicker of white out of the corner of my eye as a second deer bounded toward her from the neighboring yard. That’s when I saw the herd of seven watching from above.
“Well hello beautifuls,” I called out to the entire crew.
Beautifuls. That’s what I’ve called the deer since moving here four years ago.
I’ve said it so many times that Faith, my eight-year-old Golden Retriever, props up her ears anytime she hears the word beautiful. I first noticed her reaction one night while relaxing on the couch after dinner. Faith was laying beside me as she does most evenings. I was stroking and admiring her golden fluffy fur when I said, “Hey Beautiful.”
Her chin flew off the arm of the brown leather sofa, she turned her head toward me, brown eyes wide with excitement, and up went the ears, almost quizzically. I repeated the adoring salutation four or five times and each time she responded exactly the same. Eyes wide and ears at attention.
“Oh, you think there are friends nearby, don’t you?” I said jokingly (I also call the deer friends).
We see deer most mornings on our two-mile walk through the streets of Laurel Park.
They’re our neighbors here on top of Echo Mountain. Most days they simply stare back at us from the woods. I greet them, “hello beautifuls,” and have a short, one-sided conversation, while Faith tries unsuccessfully to remain calm. It’s usually her ramped-up energy or incessant barking that turns the quiet staring herd into a splash of white tails bounding off into the trees.
Rarely do they engage, so this morning’s stomping incident was unusual. Although my husband, Louie, did share a story with me a few years ago about encountering a large buck in the middle of the road, while walking the dogs. As he stood there facing the six-point buck, unsure of what to do, the deer stomped and snorted. Louie said he thought the buck was going to charge. He didn’t. He did however scare the crap out of my husband.
Shortly after this morning’s stomp, I heard a snort.
“Oh she must mean business,” I quipped to the dogs.
Hope, my 10-year-old Golden Retriever stood in the street next to me staring at the herd of seven. Faith’s excitement increased steadily until she began yanking her leash and barking, as if to say “let me at ‘em!”
We’re not from here. We moved to the mountains of North Carolina from suburban San Diego four years ago. Hope and Faith were not raised around deer. Rabbits and squirrels, yes. Deer, wild turkeys, groundhogs, and bears—the animals that comprise our neighbors here on the mountain—no, they’re all new friends. Hope observes them calmly. They rile Faith up. If I were to drop the leash I’m pretty sure Faith would take off and I might never see her again.
After a few minutes standing in the street and conversing with my wild neighbors, I can see they’re not running off this morning. Despite Faith’s barking and lunging, they continue to watch us from the safety of my neighbor’s yard 10 feet above.
The stomp and snort are a message.
Move on. Go away. Leave us alone.
It’s not aggression. It’s not even a warning. It’s more of a polite request.
The deer know us. We’ve coexisted peacefully for years. We often remark how docile they seem, standing there and looking intrigued as we talk to them. Most days I half expect them to respond, “It’s so nice to see you too, and yes, it is a beautiful day.”
I decide this morning’s encounter is a response to something that happened last night.
A similar sized herd was grazing on a hill near our home when Faith and my brother walked by. My brother phoned to let me know and I quickly grabbed my coat and headed down the street. Even after four years, I can’t get enough of the deer. If given a chance to see them I always take it.
As I rounded the curve and the hillside came into view, I saw a sea of white tails hightailing it up the mountain and into the trees. My brother was standing in the middle of the street, gripping Faith’s leash, trying to regain control of my half-crazed dog.
“Faith scared them off, didn’t she?!” I yelled.
I wasn’t surprised. Actually, I was surprised she hadn’t done so before I arrived.
Perhaps this morning the deer recognized Faith, her scent, or her bark, and were simply saying, “Not this time sweetie. It’s your turn to leave. We’re enjoying our breakfast and we’re not ready to move on.”