This is the year the deer have chosen my yard. They have always been present in my 5 acres of mostly wooded property - wandering through and sampling the natural vegetation, spending an afternoon napping in my fern bed, and occasionally interacting with my cat. But this year, a small group of them appears to have taken up a more permanent residence.
It started back in May. A very obviously wounded deer hobbled through the yard and collapsed under one of the pine trees. It looked like she had been grazed on the hindquarters by a vehicle moving too fast through our secluded neighborhood. About a day later, she died. My spouse dug a hole for her and buried her under the watching eyes of another deer.
An then this other deer claimed our yard, chasing off all others who tried to wander through. There were stand offs full of huffing and stomping and snorting. And we learned that deer spit great showering sprays when they are particularly perturbed.
After a few weeks of this aggressive behavior, we saw our deer in the yard flanked by two little white-spotted babies, barely bigger than my cat. We now had a family.
Over the intervening weeks, we have left food out for this mother and her babies - fruit, vegetable scraps, and when we noticed their fondness for it, a makeshift trough of birdseed. We watched the babies grow and run and chase each other around the yard.
Then, about halfway through this week, we noticed that there was just one fawn. Baby animals out in the wild have a precarious existence, even in the relative wild of exurbia. Such is the way of life. We wondered in passing what might have happened. Yesterday we found out.
We found our little baby curled up in one of the basement window wells, injured and dead. We dug another hole next to the hole we had dug in May and gently and silently buried our fawn. It was a vivid reminder of how short life is. In some cases, only about six weeks.
It was also a rather unsettling reminder of our relationship with the larger animal kingdom. Some species we leave to the wild. But others we capture, tame, breed, care for, slaughter, eat. Some become our pets, some our co-workers. Depending on culture, circumstance, need, an animal can slip from one category into another. Under different circumstances, that fawn would be considered food.
But yesterday, looking at the broken little body of a beautiful wild creature who was born in my yard and died next to my house, I felt sorrow and a little culpable, as if I were somehow accountable for this little life that the world had created so close to my own, and I had somehow failed to see that she matured to adulthood.
This morning it is cloudy and humid in the way that Maryland gets in the summer, the way that doesn't mean impending rain but only that summer is here in earnest. There are no deer grazing in the yard this morning. There is only the mound of displaced earth out where they like to congregate, silent and empty.