Tuesday, November 12, 2013

His Name was Tom Sawyer

   I first saw him alone about a week ago while running some easy miles in our back field. It was a cold, rainy morning, really foggy too, and he surprised me as I rounded a downhill corner. That morning he bolted, trying to elude me; but we were already at the edge of the property, so the tall predator fencing made a quick escape difficult. Instead of jumping over it, he ran alongside the fence, turning the corner ahead of me, running straight and swift along my well worn foot path. I was so excited! I ran clumsily behind this elegant young creature, juggling my cell phone to take some photos. Trying not to slip on the muddy red rock slopes.


     We see deer at the farm every day. They visit just before daybreak and again after sunset to drink at the llama pond and maybe graze the prairies grasses. In fact the adjacent Pine Forest is full of deer families; but this little guy was alone and tender and suddenly very important to me. He was the same one who kept Dulcinea company many weeks ago, though at that time both of their mothers stood constant watch. Have you ever seen a cria and a fawn nose to nose, all four ears forward and happy? My gosh. It might knock the wind out of you, it's so cute. The term "too cute" was actually invented to describe this exact situation.

   I should mention here that until late yesterday, I though this fawn was a little girl. 
So in my head I was calling her Rebecca, after the novel Rebecca by Daphne Du Maurier. 
I named my late mare Daphne. Just a little naming trivia for ya. 


   So this little fawn runs ahead of me and even attempts a few nimble zig-zags, probably thinking I was in hot pursuit. Of course I wasn't, except to click my phone at him, but surely my giggling and clumsy running put him on the defensive. Understandable. This went on for a desperate eighth of a mile, then he disappeared somewhere to the southwest of us. I finished my run and was emotionally buoyed for most of that day. Seeing a wild animal like that, spending just a few moments with him, felt amazing.


   Fast forward a week or so, to yesterday morning. Another early morning run, another attempt to get a grip on my thoughts and emotions before the day ramps up. Every day lately is so different, so fraught with unpredictable challenges, I really need this time outside.

   Yesterday morning the sun was fiercely bright and the grasses were only wet from dew. I saw him on my first lap, on the opposite side of the field this time, still sleeping in the tall grass beneath a small oak tree. It happens to be where Jocelyn, my first-born beauty, had built a quick playhouse years ago. Seeing him here pleased me so much.

   I definitely gasped aloud and stopped right there on the path. This time, though, taking pictures and squealing at him didn't scare the little guy. He did wobble to his feet, but only to look at me. I thought his back legs seemed a bit wonky, like maybe they were still asleep and numb. Does that happen to deer? I wondered to myself.

   We stared at each other for several moments before he took a few delicate steps forward and I decided he was mine forever. He was so. Very. Beautiful. Then he stopped and I chastised myself for being greedy don't you have enough, woman? I backed away, turned, and continued my run.

   At this point, any reasonable wild deer would have made a quick departure. He certainly had numerous escape routes this time. But when I returned to that same spot a lap later, he was still there! I was floored. He was not only there; he was watching me. He had walked out into the warm sunshine, quite uncovered by the tree row or tall grasses, and was waiting for me to round that southwest corner. So I did what I do with the llamas: I ignored him flatly. I stayed on my straight little path and maintained exactly the same pace, believing predictability to be an ingredient for trust. With the llamas, the more we do this, the more approachable they are. The less we appear to want them, the more they want us. You know this drill. On that next lap, I wondered if he would still be there, but I prepared myself for him to be long gone.

   He was still there.

   And again. And again. And again.

   Lap after lap, for almost an hour, he stood there on the edge of the back field, now flooded with golden daylight, watching me. Eventually he did walk downhill a bit to the corner where he'd escaped last week, but he still stood and waited, watching me and the llamas with those big liquid black eyes and those giant curved ears pointed forward. Curious. Alone. I assured him telepathically that I would be his mama if he needed one, and that Handsome would buy him some deer corn today. He told me telepathically how great that all sounded.

   I indulged in a complete and very colorful fantasy about having a pet deer, about how he and Dulcinea would grow up together, about how children who visit the farm could experience such a fun close encounter, etc, etc. I was hooked.

   After this blissful time outside, I returned to Handsome, who was home from the Commish for the holiday, and told him all about the fawn. (I may have also been texting him photos of it during my run.) He was as enamored as me, and we agreed to try and at least feed the little orphan and just see what happens.


   We went about our romantic plans for our day alone, only occasionally mentioning the deer. I was trying really hard to play it cool. Halfway through the day we stopped and purchased a large bag of deer corn for our new little charge. Once home, we drove it down to the back field and looked and looked. The fawn was not in the playhouse grass; nor did we see him walking around anywhere. We kept looking and then Handsome said, "Oh no."

   There he was, folded neatly on the ground near the area from which he had watched me for so long. He was hedged in by prairie grass and wild sage. His enormous eyes were wide open but he was very, very still, so immediately I thought he was already gone. I assumed he had starved to death without his mama, and I instantly felt deeply bitter against the bag of deer corn in the truck.

   "Wait, no, she's alive!" Handsome said excitedly. Remember, we still thought he was a she. We approached the tiny caramel colored animal slowly, and we also noticed that Seraphine and Dulcinea were approaching, too. The fawn never flinched. The closer we walked, the better we could see tiny little horn buds (it's a boy!) and even count those long black eyelashes. Unfortunately we also saw that the little fawn had two massive injures to his left rear leg. Probably a predator had tried to get him. It looked vicious. Violent and awful. I couldn't believe he was so calm.

   We spoke very little, just returned to the barn for a few supplies, loaded the little guy into a wheelbarrow, and brought him up closer to the house. The llamas and guineas were very attentive during this time.

   The next hour and a half was a long, bittersweet wait. We were torn between doing everything possible to help this little guy and taking him out of pain and loneliness if we absolutely could not help him. This is a difficult enough dilemma under normal circumstances, but in the dark shadow of losing his Mom, it was excruciating for my husband. I kept trying to take the decision away from him, but he doesn't shirk anything easily. And these burdens he tends to keep for himself.

   Once we realized this fawn was a boy, I secretly started calling him Tom Sawyer. He telepathically agreed with his new name. And he telepathically asked if I could sew some curtains for the wheelbarrow, which was obviously now his. Yes, yes of course I will do that, Tom Sawyer. What color?


   Handsome worked steadily to clean the two gaping wounds. They were so deep that bone was visible above Tom Sawyer's ankle. It was grotesquely swollen, and maggots had collected there too. The other wound at his knee was also pretty bad, but this one looked horribly painful. My jobs were to fetch supplies as needed and sit and keep Tom Sawyer company.  We used warm soapy water, topical cleansers and medicines we keep on hand for the horses, and even one shot of penicillin, all in efforts to relieve him of pain, even if we couldn't outright heal him.

   Tom Sawyer looked up at us once in a while, but he never really moved or even objected to our manipulations. He soon started laying flat on his thin little neck. He had to have been in pain, so I prayed for it to stop. And I wondered what deer think about, did he wonder about his mama? Where was she, and why wasn't she helping him? We offered him water in a bowl. We offered him water from a giant nursing bottle we had used for the baby bison years ago.And we offered him the deer corn we'd bought a few hours earlier. He wanted nothing. So we sat with him and sang a little and waited for that obvious sign.

   My sweet, strong husband, though he worked without slowing, and though he made a few optimistic comments, kept saying to me, "Babe, it's just not..." and he would shake his head sadly. I knew the reality, of course, but what I didn't know was exactly how we would handle it. We were already glad we hadn't allowed Tom Sawyer to die cold and alone in the muddy back field, though that is nature's way. But even saying the words was impossible; I could not fathom either of us carrying out the act. Not at a time like this.

   I looked on my smart phone for possible help. Not a traditional vet, possibly a rescue or preserve. But who rescues deer? People hunt deer. I had no clue. Fortunately on the first page I saw  Wildcare Oklahoma  and called them. A young woman answered the phone promptly and was eager to hear all about our problem. She sounded instantly heart broken and said if we could bring the animal to them, they could help us. So we loaded Tom Sawyer as gently and securely as possible into the back of our truck and made a very quiet forty-minute drive to Noble, Oklahoma.


   We watched the sun set as we drove south then pulled into a beautifully manicured property in the middle of hay meadows, curving with shrubs and dressed with several grids of clean animal paddocks. Three young interns and the owner, all women, greeted us warmly. They walked with us to the back of the pickup and looked in on Tom Sawyer. My heart was briefly inflated with fresh hope, watching these women orchestrate themselves into loving action. I even planned in my head that I would come visit him in rehab a few times a week until he could come home. He telepathically thanked me and said how nice that would be.

   Within a minute, though, the owner said rather firmly that he could not be helped. She explained softly but without room for argument that the ankle injury in particular was unlikely to heal, then she gave a really convincing explanation of the dangers of penning in a deer this size. Having lost his spots, Tom Sawyer was older than I had estimated and therefore stronger, more likely to bolt and hurt himself if scared. But he's not scared, I kept thinking, he trusts us.

   This sad, necessary conversation lasted only a few minutes, then Handsome and the owner joined forces to relocate Tom Sawyer to his final bed before saying goodbye. I will always be grateful to her for shouldering what he would otherwise have stubbornly shouldered himself, no matter what damage it did to him. I walked inside to do a speck of paperwork with one of the interns. I was in a mild state of shock and actively worrying about my husband.


   Emotionally, the day ran the gamut. As if we have lots of emotional energy to spare right now. And it ended sadly but with a measure of relief.

   I want to share something else achingly beautiful. Tom Sawyer, though we could not save him, and though because of our human emotions we had removed him from his natural setting, ended up being of service anyway. The rescue center also treats and rehabilitates raptors, birds of prey like hawks and eagles, so since his little body was injured and not diseased, they were able to use him to help sustain other animals in need. Handsome and I both found this to be really wonderful.


   I am so frustrated by this compouding sense of loss. So sad that Dulcinea doesn't have her buddy anymore. And so very grieved for my husband's heavy heart. At the same time, I am thrilled to have had those quarter-mile laps with Tom Sawyer, and the few hours yesterday evening sitting with him. I am so glad to have seen him to a quiet, peaceful end and to know a little more about deer now. I am very grateful to the folks at Wildcare Oklahoma.

   Life is so dang cold sometimes. Until we look for the hidden blessings. Then it's warm again.



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