he rush of spring has been quite something this year. It started late, especially since we had 5" of snow on the 28th and 29th April! But since then, the grass has shot up; the bracken has reached my waist and continues to grow; and I can't see much through the trees in the woodland now as all the trees are in leaf. This makes the perfect shelter for the roe deer that live in the woods. In winter and early spring I frequently see them coming out of the woods to feed in the fields and moorland as resources in the woods below become scarce. But from spring until late autumn there is no need to venture out of the protection of the woods as all their food needs are met. So, I have to go down to the woods to watch them, and this is one of my favourite ways of being in nature. I have to become very aware of my body, being careful to tread lightly and avoid twigs; I watch my breathing; take note of the direction of the wind on my skin so that I'm downwind of the deer and their very keen sense of smell; and I must keep myself hidden as much as possible. This is easy to write down here, but in practice it is much harder, and there have been many times when I have seen a deer, but only as bounds away from me! What I am aiming to do is to watch the deer without it being able to see, hear or smell me. This is easiest to do when the wind is high, and coming towards me, as this covers the sounds of my steps, and my scent. Unlike humans, a roe deer's eyesight is not its strongest sense, and so by being slightly camouflaged with a green jacket, and remaining completely still, a deer will have a hard time spotting you, even from 20 yards away.
Spring is also the time when roe deer have their kids. Normally this takes place from April until June. Locally, they seem to give birth in late May. So, three weeks ago I went out looking for kids in the woods, but apart from seeing two does, I had no joy. However, my neighbour told me that he'd seen two deer kids and a doe together locally, so that told me that they were there somewhere! I went out again and was rewarded this time by the sight of a doe and her kid, unaware of me at first. She was feeding off a birch tree, whilst her youngster went off exploring. The kid was probably the size of a large cat with long legs, and beautiful white spots on its golden brown fur. It was lovely to see, although after a while she was aware that something was watching her as she kept looking forwards where I was stood. The wind kept changing direction, and so I think she was getting wisps of my scent. As I walked away, she definitely heard and probably saw me, and ran off barking. This is a fascinating strategy, and is obviously highly successful. When the mother expects danger, she runs off barking so as to attract the attention of the predator so that it will give chase to her. Meanwhile the kid drops to the floor, flattens itself to the ground, and remains motionless until the mother returns. Presumably this strategy stops the predator from taking notice of the kid, chases the mother, and it relies on the mother being able to out-run any predator.
I saw this same pair a week later in close proximity to where I had seen them the week before, and it led me to the idea of using my father-in-law's trail camera (a motion sensitive camera that can take photos day and night) so I could get a photo of the kid. I set it up in the woods and left it. Thinking it was a sure thing, I went to look at it after six days. On connecting the camera to the computer, to my dismay, I had captured no photos of the kid, and only two photos of a doe! I'll have to try again in a different place.
For me, watching deer is my own mindfulness exercise: I am not thinking about what I am doing tomorrow, nor what I did wrong yesterday. I am completely in the present moment, both internally and externally. I become fully aware of my body, treading very carefully, listening out for movement, and watching the path ahead of me both for noisy leaf litter, and for the deer themselves. And, importantly, I am in contact with a wild animal, whether that be looking at deer tracks in the mud, seeing a deer couch, or suddenly coming face-to-face with a buck, and him running away, barking at me to tell me he knows that I am there, and the game's up. I think that this sort of movement and contact opens up ancient ways of being. It takes us away from modern life where we have become too domesticated, living in our cognitions and surrounded by our own creations (e.g. cars, houses, offices, streets, television, etc). It keeps us in touch with our whole bodies and also the non-human world. Contact like the above can bring our wilder side out. What do you do to get in touch with your wild self?