Oh! Deer!

I took a walk in the cold, snowy woods this evening. The woods were filled with deer.

It was sublime, a perfect surprise to redeem a frigid week in which I have found myself working long hours in a shiveringly-cold office, missing precious time with my son.

When I say it has been frigid, I do not exaggerate. Most days have not seen the temperature warm beyond the single digits (Fahrenheit), and sub-zero has become a norm. We muddle through because winter is something we know how to do here, and it doesn’t do to complain. It also doesn’t do any good.

For me, the hardest part has been watching my dogs suffer from the tedium of being cooped up inside far too much. Neither has been able to spend more than a couple of minutes outdoors at a time, and the salt spread on sidewalks and streets — it snowed just before the serious cold arrived, then snowed again a couple of days ago when we had a slight warmup — has made even a walk around the block treacherous. (Yeah, yeah — dog booties. These dogs do not appreciate them.)
Environmentalists though we are, we’ve actually taken to bundling both dogs into the car the past few days (since the minor warmup — you know, the one that brought the temperature into the lower teens during the heat of the day) to drive them to the park we normally walk to, hoping this will provide more mental stimulation than a walk around our familiar block. We’re able to avoid most of the salt hazards and get a short walk in the park before the sub goes down completely on the day.

Tonight we decided to shake things up just a bit more, driving an extra 5 minutes to a nearby nature preserve. We had the woods to ourselves, snow crunching beneath our feet, dog poop freezing almost before it hit the ground (again, not exaggerating). The dogs perked up, sniffing the ground with renewed interest, pulling their leashes tight to forge ahead against the cold, the woods providing a bit of shelter from the wind.

My husband and I chatted pleasantly, enjoying the dogs’ obvious happiness and energy.

But, look — what was that movement up ahead?

Oh! Deer!

We stopped to watch a few white tails bob up and down as a small band of deer trotted deeper into the woods, apparently startled by our presence. Just as we resumed our walk, another group crossed our path perhaps a few hundred yards ahead, small but distinct in the distance. As we stood and watched, we heard the rumble of a commuter train still some short distance away but headed toward us on the railroad tracks that mark one boundary of the woods. Then a new group of deer ran across our path just a short distance ahead, fleeing the train tracks for the woods.

And then another group.

As we turned to head into the woods ourselves — moving in the same direction as the deer, but fully expecting they would forge on ahead much faster than we, several more trotted past from a different direction, heading toward the others.

With each group, we stopped, pointed, remarked quietly. We continued deeper into the woods, not wanting to cut short our first real walk of the week, hopeful that nature’s show wasn’t yet over. It was nearing dusk, after all, a natural time for deer to be on the move. The dogs were beside themselves with excitement, eager to follow the deer, but uncharacteristically silent and only barely straining their leashes.

Then suddenly we realized the deer had stopped ahead of us, within easy viewing distance, and were simply watching us as well. Eventually, a few even started to creep cautiously toward us, perhaps just curious, perhaps hoping we would feed them.

We stood a few minutes longer and watched, then quietly turned to walk the dogs away. It was cold, after all, and the woods belong first to the deer.

Back to the car we all went, filled with wonder (the people) and excitement (the dogs), happy in the moment.


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