A Doe Group Walks the Yard
My rhododendrons do not bloom, though they have grown five years in my yard. They are not as advertised: “Henry’s Red, a hardy rhododendron with plump buds, and promising fifteen individual flowers to each cluster.”
The promise has not been kept. I have not seen one red bloom. Not one. The plump buds disappear before any flowers come. It’s a mystery but I suspect I know the answer.
To test my theory, I sit at my living room window, looking out over the front garden. There are no interior lights on and nothing except the window screen between me and the rising darkness. I watch and wait. The dark throws layers of shadow over the lawn. I can taste the cool air and hear the robins singing a welcome to the evening. I am silent, still, waiting. Shadows stretch and deepen, as charcoal silk spreads over the grass and gardens.
I sense something; movement? It’s a perception behind my eyes, a knowing, just before my eyes can focus. Then a ripple of movement; shadow upon shadow on careful, quiet legs. She stops and looks, searching before leading her family down the hill. They keep near the edge of the street, travelling mute over the grass. Their split toes soundless and delicate like a lover’s touch. Silent, they glide in and out of the deeper shadows cast by the trees and the neighbour’s house.
Close now, she stops, head up, neck straight, brown ears scoping side to side. Does she see me, sense me in the window? I hold my breath; turn to stone.
She decides all is well and brings her two yearlings with her, stepping out of the shadow of the maple, stepping nearer. Careful, watchful, hungry. The doe is full, budding ripe herself, soon to birth new life.
I intended to frighten them away but cannot. I cannot take my eyes from their brown velvet skin, their long lashes, their eyes, round and full and deep. I watch them bend and nibble; their lips and teeth like a surgeon’s fingers, taking what they want and no more. What they want are the buds on my rhododendrons.
I should startle them, make a noise, and wave my arms. If I did, the pregnant mother would straighten and stamp her split hoof, snort a warning and all three would bound away, white tails raised. I should but I don’t. Something stops me. I only sit and watch. I cannot stop staring.
They step away from the garden and fade, shadows upon shadows as they melt through the yard to another neighbour’s house, to his pond for a drink. When they are still, I cannot see them even though I know they are there. They are part of the darkness. Only in movement are they revealed.
The three deer have gone now, up through the mulch at the edge of the driveway, stopping to snack on the green shoots on the yews, eat bits of new grass. They cross the street to another yard, searching out other treats before returning to the sheltering woods at the top of the hill.
My mystery is solved.
I stared into her face. She stared into mine. I didn’t move or shout; she didn’t bolt. In that moment, a kind of blessing passed between us, mute and tender and real. My rhododendrons have no blooms, but another form of beauty is walking my yard at dusk and dawn.
The words and photo are copyright ©Carol Steel.