The Cry of a Baby, The Big Eyes, The Innocence

A fleeting glimpse of a mother and her baby
A fleeting glimpse of a mother and her baby from my image archives, 2005

Since the severe snow-covered winter of 2009, the “rats on stilts” as I used to call them have not been the constant army against us that they once were.

So now instead of fifteen deer of an evening browsing cavalierly at the end of the pasture, we’ll see a couple now and then, or none at all.

They have even left us our hostas and rhododendron alone, items that were once on the menu of our Deer Salad Park, as I used to refer to our garden and landscaping.

The deer population–at least in our remote corner of Floyd County–is certainly in better balance than it once was. The increasing coyote population may also play a role in that. Even so, deer are still one of our chief disturbers of forest diversity, eating the ginseng, the morels, the young browse of hardwoods , and committing acts of terrorism against our Floyd County Subarus.

And so given all this, I have to question why my wife and I acted so urgently and quickly out of parental instincts to save a fawn from  the annoyances of our dog yesterday. The pitiful bleating triggers the “baby crying in the next room” kind of reflex, and we rushed to protect the innocent, even though it was the young of an animal population still not quite in balance with the forests and fields they live in.

The fawn suffered no trace of physical injury from the dogs persistent pursuit, but will likely be in therapy for the rest of its days from the trauma of being chased in and out of the creek bed near the pasture where its mother had left it yesterday afternoon.

With considerable inelegant thrashing about in the creek to corner the dog, in the absence of a leash, I tied the sleeve of my red Goretex raincoat to Gandy’s collar.  Ann gathered up the tiny deer out of the cold water.

As I escorted the dog back to the house, she looked back over her shoulder often to follow what was happening. Ann carried the passive bundle of stickly legs, big eyes and spots back to the place on Nameless Creek where it had flushed when the dog almost stepped on it.

I was looking back, too, because if the mother deer was close by, she would be aggressive–as we have experienced before–in the defense of her fawn. It’s a little unnerving to confront a full grown deer that is snorting and stamping and full of maternal hormones and hard-wired to defend her baby.

The pasture grass is shoulder high. There may be a half dozen baby deer hidden in our field. So for the next few weeks, we will carry a leash–each of us, just in case.

We need not risk our necks if the choice is saving Bambi or saving our old bones. But we probably will rush to the rescue, and we know it. I mean really: what are ya gonna do?

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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. Wonderful essay and gorgeous photo, Fred! I feel it’s our responsibility to keep pets (which are invasive species, after all) from harming wildlife, the best we can. So good for you and Ann! I admit I haven’t always succeeded in this with our terriers and my failures, in the past, have haunted me…the mangled baby raccoon, the half-eaten turkey poult, the traumatized opossum. Domestic dogs, cats and automobiles are not in the natural order of Appalachia, so it’s the right thing to do to avoid the pain and loss they cause.