The Hard Crossing
Eastern Long Island has a fragile, unique and beautiful ecology. The pressure on that balance of nature is probably most dramatically illustrated by the deer population on the East End, and the search for a solution.
When I see the deer at dusk, peacefully grazing, I wonder what they think. Here is a little story from the point of view of a doe and her fawn during hunting season.
Pop! Pop! The woods fell silent. A soft plop sounded as snow fell from a pine bough I pushed away as I sank to my knees to shelter my fawn. The grazing sounds of deer swishing through drifts to reach a tender branch on a tree had ceased.
The large ears of my white-tail kin twitched as did mine, straining to locate the source of the popping sound. It’s close. I nuzzled my little baby, and burrowed further into the snowy hollow, to become invisible. She never moved, nor did a sound emerge from her small spotted body. Thank you, Great Being, I prayed silently, knowing my fawn’s built-in self-preservation is serving her well.
A few seconds went by and the sound did not repeat. The herd began to forage again.
Pop! Pop! This time the sound seemed farther away. Those sounds conveyed only one message. The up-right creatures with the killing sticks are back, the one’s my herd has learned to fear. It is written in our memories from a long time ago.
I nuzzled my little fawn, her eyes wide and alert. With a swing of my head in the direction away from the Pop Pop, we trotted into the woods. Girl Fawn kept up. The snow in the woods was not too deep. I stopped, listening. Pop! Pop! Did I go the wrong way? I found a hollow under a clump of pitch pines and dense tall grass. Girl Fawn followed, and we did our best to become invisible again.
In the quiet I heard the Shush-ruhsh and deep rumble of those huge metal things, like bison, only bigger with no fur. We’re near the hard crossing. It could be a way to get to a safer place.
The warm orb was beginning to sink towards the place of disappearing. Soon it would be dark.
A metal bison was on the move, coming towards us. Girl Fawn’s large eyes shot open, peering at me for direction. I didn’t know what to do. Run! Run! And then I remembered the killing sticks. I leaned against my fawn so she would know not to run. The ground began to shake. My inner sounds were so loud I was sure metal bison would find us. Girl Fawn struggled to get up, following her need to run. I pushed her down. She whimpered.
The metal bison passed. Soon I heard the Shush-ruhsh from the hard crossing.
Girl Fawn whimpered again. I was lying on her leg. I made her stand. She whimpered again. She stumbled back to me and laid herself down. I licked her leg and she slept. The scant warmth of the day was fast slipping away.
I had to wake her, and see if Girl Fawn could walk. I wanted to use the dark time to travel to the other side of the hard crossing. I never heard the Pop-Pop there. Never saw the up-right creatures with their killing sticks. Once I saw an up-right picking mushrooms. I wondered where their cave was.
I nuzzled Girl Fawn awake. She stretched, but did not whimper. A good sign. The only light came from the hard crossing accompanied by the shushing noise. I licked my little fawn’s face and poked her with the “stand up” signal. She rose, stood, and picked up the injured leg. Fear clenched my insides. She nursed and did her frisky little dance that meant she was content. Maybe her leg was just stiff.
We must go! I led the way to the dreaded crossing. Again my inner pounding increased to a roar in my ears. Girl Fawn was favoring her leg, but not whimpering. We came out of the woods onto a grassy area where many others were grazing. Here the food was tender and salty and very good to eat.
A metal bison appeared in the distance on the up-hill side, its great yellow eyes poking through the dark. It rumbled by, causing a strong breeze. I had done the crossing before. I knew there were two hard crossings with grass between them.
Girl Fawn looked up at me, searching me for her cue to move. My sweet smart girl seemed to know I needed her to listen. I listened too. There was nothing but the chewing sounds of my kin. I swung my head toward the crossing and trotted off. Girl Fawn followed, but slowly. I waited. I was on the hard surface now. She hesitated. I blew air out through my nose, and she caught up. I pushed her and we crossed.
Just then another pair of metal bison eyes bore over the hill. The bison roared past. What a cruel creature it is. I’ve seen my kin felled by them more than once.
Girl Fawn made a small sound as she stood on her three good legs, looking at me. I bent my head to graze and she came to nurse. No more Pop Pop sounds from the up-right creatures, but now we had to make it over the next hard crossing to the other woods. I swung my head again, and we came out on the low grass next to the hard area. Bison eyes appeared immediately. Girl Fawn stared into the lights. I held my breath, knowing if she didn’t look away, she could be drawn into that yellow glow.
I blew air through my nose again, trying to get her attention. She was hooked. She moved toward the lights. I breathed through my nose again, louder, making a little squeal at the end. She continued to stare. Nothing to do but to knock her down again, and hope her legs could take it.
The metal bison was near enough to hear its treacherous breathing, to smell its foul scat. Girl Fawn took another step forward. I lurched at her. She fell, as the bison went by, so close it splashed us both. Girl Fawn jumped to her feet, and with a swing of my head we crossed to the safety of the woods.
But this time, my little girl was limping badly. I found another hollow to shelter in, and she whimpered as we lay down. I licked her all over to comfort her, and we slept.
The warm orb came up in the appearing place to wake us. Girl Fawn seemed better. She didn’t whimper when she stood, but I knew we couldn’t go far. We grazed, moving on, because staying in one place is not what we do. She lagged farther and farther behind. We stopped to rest, and I licked her leg. She slept. I could not, or so I thought.
The sound of the up-right creatures woke me. Two tall ones and three short ones were picking up objects from under the trees where there was little snow. They moved past, not seeing us.
When I thought it was safe, I nudged Girl Fawn. She got up but would not put weight on the leg. She hobbled and fell over with a whimper. I blew air through my nose.
I heard the up-rights make their high pitched sounds, coming toward us. Run! But my little fawn would not be able to keep up. I stood my ground and blew air through my nose as hard as I could. The creatures stopped, and one of the little ones pointed at Girl Fawn. She came forward, and reaching in her basket held something out to me, and then to Girl Fawn. She made a soft sound, and stroked my baby’s head. Girl Fawn was not yet afraid of the up-rights.
I fled to the woods to watch. My insides pounded in my head, and my breath came out in puffy clouds. I knew I could not help my baby’s bad leg, and without walking she would die, food for the other forest creatures.
I heard her whimper as I ran off. I hid in the woods until the dark time came again. When I returned to the place where I left my fawn, I searched for her scent, and followed it to the square cave where up-rights sheltered. Yellow light glowed from the cave. I could see Girl Fawn and the up-rights. She was not whimpering. She was standing, but her leg was a different color. She was not afraid of the up-rights who were feeding her with something. She stopped and frisked for a bit.
I blew air again, and she stopped, searching for me. Catchting sight of me, she came as the up-rights watched, and with a swing of her head led me to a pile of corn and a salty stick.
What place is this? I thought. My little fawn butted me. I heard one of the little up-rights sound something. I don’t understand their sounds, but they had taken care of Girl Fawn.
“Daddy! Mommy! Can we keep Fawn? And her mommy?” said Eva.
“Only until they want to leave,” Dad replied.
“And hunting season is over,” Mom added.