About four years ago and just about this time of year, I was mowing a very tall pasture when I suddenly heard a loud squealing sound coming from the bush hog (mower). The high pitched squeal sounded like a mechanical problem, so I quickly raised the mower, shut down the PTO, and idled the tractor while looking over my shoulder. What I saw, much to my dismay, was a tiny little fawn come tumbling out from underneath the mower as the tractor rolled forward before stopping. “Oh, fuck,” I thought, “fuck. Fuck. Fuck.”
My relationship with death, now well established and occasionally banal, had barely begun. I didn’t want to get off the tractor. I didn’t want to see what I knew could only be gruesome. But, I had no choice, so I stepped down off the tractor and walked back to where the fawn was laying in the grass. Again much to my dismay, I saw a battered and bloody speckled fawn that couldn’t have been more than a week old (I could not have made that estimate then). My dismay, however, was less about the battered and bloody and more about the fact that the fawn was still alive. I repeated my f*bomb mantra, this time out loud, as if it would make some sort of difference.
What to do? I won’t go into the horrible details of what I saw, but it was obvious even to me that the fawn was totally ruined. It had to be put out of its misery, but how? I had no gun. I had no knife. I had nothing. I stood there paralyzed, welling up with empathetic emotion. Finally, I decided to go get my neighbor, who I knew had a .22 that we could use to put the fawn down. Then, just as I was about to walk away, I noticed that the fawn had stopped breathing. I waited a moment. No more breaths. I bent down and leaned closer. Nothing. I looked at its eyes. They were fixed and glassy. I waited again. Nothing. I was certain. The fawn was dead.
So now what? What does one do with a dead fawn? I decided that I wasn’t going to go to the trouble of burying it. I was down near the edge of the woods, so I picked it up and walked over to the woods, which is at the very edge of a steep hill, and unceremoniously tossed the fawn into the woods. I heard it tumble down the hill a bit and then stop. The thing I remember the most about carrying the fawn is how soft its fur was. It might have been the softest thing I have ever touched.
Leap forward four years to me, mowing tall pastures, again in the height of fawn season.
Yesterday after reaching the bottom of the pasture, I made a turn and started back up the other side. I noticed a shape in the next pasture out of the corner of my eye, so I looked over. “Oh no!” I thought. It was a lone doe deer, grazing. A lone doe means only one thing. Somewhere, very near, there was a fawn lying silent and still, nestled deep in the tall grass.
These days I am a reluctant, uncertain partner with death. Nevertheless, the gruesome, violent, painful death of a tiny baby deer is not something I want to be a part of ever again, so when I saw that doe all sorts of alarms started going off in my head.
As I continued forward, I did two things, I started scanning as deeply into the grass that would in moments be rolling under the mower as best I could and I started thinking: “The doe is over there. You are over here. The fawn is probably over there. But, what if it isn’t? What if it is over here? You’ll never see it through the grass. That’s what the spots are for! You’re gonna run it over. But, it’s probably over there with the doe.” On and on I went as I very nervously drove up the pasture past the doe.
I came back down the other side and made the turn again. “Dammit!” I thought. The doe was standing at the pasture fence looking very intently into my pasture. She was nervous too. Her ears and tail were twitching. The fawn was definitely in my pasture.
I had probably two acres left to mow. That’s a lot of tall grass. I couldn’t walk it all — well, of course I could, but I wasn’t going to. I would just stay vigilantly scanning the grass and take my chances.
Just as I was coming up parallel with the doe, I noticed, out of the corner of my eye because I was staring through the grass ahead of me as if I had x-ray vision, a line of trampled grass coming up just ahead and to the right of the tractor. “Yes!” That’s got to be the doe’s path away from last night’s bed! I looked further up the pasture, and about ten feet up, at the start of the path, there was a depression in the grass.
I immediately stopped the tractor and shut down the mower. I climbed off the tractor and walked over towards the bed. The doe, probably only twenty feet away from me was starting to stamp her front feet. Her head was high. Her eyes were wide open. He ears pricked forward. Just as I reached the bed, the fawn leaped to its feet and darted out of the tall grass into the open mowed section. It ran in the mowed area for about ten feet, but feeling vulnerable, hopped back into the tall grass and laid down.
I had to get it far away from where I was mowing, so I sped up and moved into the tall grass and approached the fawn. The doe at this point was frantic. She ran away from the fence. She ran back toward the fence. She stamped. She stared. I could see the fawn. Just as I was about to reach down and snag it by a hind leg, it hopped up again and started bounding through the tall grass, but the fawn was too young and the grass too tall. It kept getting hung up, which let me keep up with it, but I still hadn’t had a chance to catch it. Then it just gave up and stopped bounding. Mid-bound, it just quit, either out of energy or out of hope. It fell face first into the grass. Its hind end sticking up. It cried out once, very loudly and then was still.
Curious, I looked up to see how the doe responded to the cry because it was the first sound that the fawn had made. Quite frankly, she flipped out. In a single bound, from a standing position, she exploded over the five foot fence and then started tearing around my pasture. First running towards us and then running away.
Not wanting to miss my opportunity, I quickly reached down and grabbed the fawn around the belly. It screamed. The doe flipped out even more. I picked the fawn up and tucked it under my arm just as I would carry one of my lambs. Just like that dead one from four years ago, it might have been the softest thing I had ever carried. As I walked I looked at it delicately featured face — so cute.
I was walking towards the mother away from where I was mowing, over to another pasture. The doe ran away, but then, irresistibly controlled by her maternal instinct, stopped and ran back towards us. Then she would freak out and run away. As we approached the other fence line, she again effortlessly leaped over the five foot fence. As I walked the fawn would scream ever now and then.
When I got to the fence, I placed the fawn on the other side of it, in the tall grass, about fifteen feet from where the doe was. I backed away, watching. I didn’t hear the doe make any sound, but after about two seconds, the fawn hopped up and quickly snaked its way through the tall grass over to the doe was standing.
The doe put her nose down and then looked up at me.
I couldn’t see because of the grass, but if fawn’s are anything like lambs, that fawn darted between its mother’s legs and went straight for the udder. For lambs, and I imagine for fawns, there is nothing like a warm drink of milk to soothe rattled nerves.
I watched for a minute to make sure they weren’t going to come back into my pasture. Then, confident that they weren’t, I walked back to the tractor, started it up and got the mower going again.
There had been no blood, no gore, and I had gotten to carry the cutest, softest little baby deer you can imagine.