My earliest memories are of deer.
I was a toddler when daddy brought home an orphaned fawn to the logging camp we lived in at the time, in the mountains of Montana.
Its favorite food was graham crackers, so I called it Graham. When I was weaned, it inherited my old baby bottle. It was my sibling and best friend. We seemed to be made of the same music.
I wondered later if "speaking its language" in my toddler years was why later on the deer always seemed to sense a "kindred spirit."
It seemed odd to everyone else that whenever we were around deer--in parks and in the wild--the deer would come to me, straight over to me, whoever else was around.
And that just felt right and natural to me.
There was always a "re-connection" feeling for me, that the deer seemed to share....
When I was seventeen and used to wander all day in the mountains of Montana with my then best friend, Gretchen, a wise and wonderful Belgian Shepherd.
We lived on an old ranch high in the hills. I would get up early, have breakfast, feed Gretchen and the horses, then I would sit my record player on an old wooden chair on the porch, but my Bob Dylan album on at "Like a Rolling Stone" and "Gretch" and I would go, hearing the music all down the old dirt road.
I knew we would cover many, many miles in a day, as it was six miles to the mailboxes where we would check for mail, and then branch off for a daily ramble. We would explore and not come home until dark.
We discovered interesting things--arrowheads left behind by an ancient Indian tribe that no one knew the name of. There was a university "dig" up there that summer and the nice man who owned the property allowed me in to dig and glean, too.
In one of our explorations Gretch and I discovered an old, abandoned, derelict homestead way back in, with no road to it. It was so far up and tucked back into a tiny valley that I wondered if anyone had seen it since the early settlers. It looked as if it had been hastily abandoned, the owners' antique belongings scattered around, dust motes stirred by my presence. The pioneer past seemed close enough to reach out and touch it.
We ran into many wild things, bear, porcupines, and once a lynx in a tree who stared and stared at us as we stood and stared and stared back. I never felt in the least bit of danger in those forests but when I told my dad about the lunx he said it was a miracle it hadn't ripped my throat out.
The most thrilling moment, though, in those long rambles, was when the deer came down over the mountain.
It was a large group of deer--until that moment I hadn't realized that they would all travel together like that. Bucks, does and babies. They all came straight to where Gretchen and I stood, quivering. I stretched out my arms to them and they walked quietly on both sides of me. Not as if I wasn't there, but as if they understood that I belonged to, and with, them.
I stood there with my arms outstretched for quite awhile as the herd passed on either side, my hands on their backs as they went by, one by one, my hands sliding along backs and haunches. Bucks, does, fawns.
They felt like..."alive" feels. The only alive I wanted to be. I never wanted anything so much as to turn and go with them....
I don't know what stopped me. Whatever part was human with human needs, I guess. When the last one had passed, Gretchen and I stood there for a long, long time.
I wondered if she felt as left behind as I did.
When we visited the Bison Range, both in my younger and teen years, the deer would come straight to me. My folks would marvel, because though the deer were tame, and were used to being fed by humans, they would always come to me whether or not others had food and I did not. Maybe I was still "speaking" their language, the language of Graham, whether I knew it or not.
Even later when I was grown up and living in the remote S.E. Alaskan rainforest, the experiences continued. One day I was sitting alone on a rock by the creek rushing by our home, staring at the waters, when something moved and from the corner of my eye I could see it was a deer. I sat and looked at it, it looked at me, and then, as if it was saying "I know you" it came up and gently pressed its nose to mine.
We were like that for a while and then it walked away.
One of my tribe, making connections.
Once, in some long, dreary days of storm and darkness, and feeling unconnected to the world, I decided to pick myself up and take myself outside, as much to get away from too much "me," as anything else. As I stepped outside I got that "part of all creation" feeling, as I almost always do here.
I walked to nearby Half Moon Bay, just wishing I could go somewhere, anywhere and "have a vacation!"
As I went to step out from the woods onto the beach, the sun came flooding at me and as I stood there in the goodness of it, a deer stepped out onto the beach and just stood looking curiously at me, like, "What's your problem?"
And I realized I didn't have one, that, in fact, I was spang in the middle of my "vacation." The very one I'd been praying for just moments ago.
These days I don't get out much. Severe arthritis keeps me close to home. But sometimes the deer will come and graze on beach grasses and the branches hanging down, or in the winter stroll past. We will go out on the decks and talk to them.
They seem to feel at home here. And it is their home, after all.
Maybe they look back at us and think, "They seem to feel at home among us. That's good."
Tara Neilson (ADOW)