Melancholy Meadow

Heavy clouds, high pasture (click to enlarge)

Our meadow is so peaceful and lovely on this drizzly morning. Mowing for hay in a few days will take down the sea of chrysanthemums, hawkweed, purple vetch and a dozen soft mauve and taupe grasses that stand waist high just now.

I waded out into this sea of stems, still drenched with an overnight dew and temps not yet risen out of the low fifties. I got soaked, of course, but if you want the best views, you have to go where they are.

And it seems fitting to show a scene from this particular point in our pasture, because over the past two days, it has been busy in wildlife comings and goings.

One incidental feature of the tall grass in the pasture is that it serves the same tracking function as a nice snowfall, though not nearly so precise, in its keeping the evidence of creature passings overnight. Snow will preserve the tiny footprints of the smallest vole. Meadow grass paints with a broader brush.

We see the narrow rambling overnight paths of deer who graze the field and bed down there under the stars, and a dozen or so had risen and left for the hills a few two days ago by the time we made our regular perambulation of the pasture trail.

But Ann and I both gasped in unison: across our mowed footpath, from the high ridge on the left to the depression of Nameless Creek on the right, it looked as if someone had driven a small tractor. The opening in the tall timothy and fescue was two feet wide. This was no deer but certainly one of our common but not commonly seen black bears.  Gandy saw it too, and smelled it, on stayed on high alert the rest of the way home.

Then yesterday at this same spot, while I had walked on toward the house, not realizing the pup was hanging back, I heard the pitiful bleat of a newborn fawn.

Gandy never barked or growled. She was not after a kill. She only wanted to play with this new gangly and awkward spotted dog that she discovered playing hide-and-seek just off the trail. But I could see the grasses moving where Gandy danced and the fawn had gone limp. When I reached them, the fawn was lying in the grass peacefully, as if it had decided to take a nap.

It was uninjured and protecting itself with the deer’s hardwired neonatal response to extreme threat: it became very still. Looking at it there in the grass, covered with chaff and pollen and spots in its stillness, I imagined it not only motionless but completely calm and at inner peace. What a wonderful response to emergency, I thought, to be able to reach that still point in the face of calamity. And how very fatal such a peace might be in the end.

I had to carry the dog away back to the path, and there, having no leash, I took off my shirt and made a temporary restraint for Gandy, who wanted to go back and play like she does with Jessie, the Golden Retriever.

So for the next few days, we’ll put the pup on the leash on our walks around the pasture. And I hope her scent creates enough of a threat that the momma deer finds alternate shelter for her baby.

If not, later in the day when the tractor takes down the hay, the circling buzzards will tell us that the baby deer went limp when it heard the sounds of danger.

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Fred First holds masters degrees in Vertebrate Zoology and physical therapy, and has been a biology teacher and physical therapist by profession. He moved to southwest Virginia in 1975 and to Floyd County in 1997. He maintains a daily photo-blog, broadcasts essays on the Roanoke NPR station, and contributes regular columns for the Floyd Press and Roanoke's Star Sentinel. His two non-fiction books, Slow Road Home and his recent What We Hold in Our Hands, celebrate the riches that we possess in our families and communities, our natural bounty, social capital and Appalachian cultures old and new. He has served on the Jacksonville Center Board of Directors and is newly active in the Sustain Floyd organization. He lives in northeastern Floyd County on the headwaters of the Roanoke River.

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  1. My goodness what a gorgeous photo this morning! Stopped me dead in tracks (well, in my scrolling). I know what you mean about the dog wanting to play with the fawn. My own dog pulled that trick a week or so ago with a fox kit. He thought he had a new buddy.

  2. I’m always amazed at how much you “get” out of your 40 acres! It’s a good reminder to all of us to slow down and look around.