So this just happened, you guys. I mean just happened, within the same hour—my socks are still wet, my fingers are still cold.
When I saw the rain this morning (nice to wake up to), I was tempted not to go to my site today, or to wait until the afternoon on my bus ride back from campus. So much to do: grade, plan, read, craft letters to my wonderful poet classmates out there doing beautiful battle with the word-things every day. (TREES AND WORDS AND THINGS YEAH.) I commented to someone that I wasn’t used to rain here in Fo Co, got used to it being dry—it won’t last long, they said. And much as it would be nice to curl in bed with a book against the cold, I figured, well, I’ve never seen my site in the rain before. Might as well slog out there and take some notes.
On my walk to the bus station, I saw Fo Co as it rarely is for me: in the rain, cars slishing through water and serrating rain behind them. The drops slanted west and plinked off the double metal train tracks I crossed, gathered on the red skin of my umbrella, clung to the plastic bags someone had pulled over the concrete bases of the (former) light pulls in a parking lot outside of a church. At first, I thought they were young trees emerging from the bags, but then I looked closer and realized the light poles were gone, leaving only bare, twisted wires fraying upward a couple feet toward the sky. This weird thing of machines veiled into branches, the mechanical absence of light.
Soap and mud trickled in rapid Vs in the ditches by the stations where I hopped on and off the bus, long lines running slick downhill from Spring Creek Station. From the silver bridge, I saw the foothills of the Front Range: clouds slipping pale tails over the peaks, vanishing them into some kind of nice Hobbit-y Misty Mountain Range. I miss reading and writing fantasy, sometimes. It made a little nostalgic for reading paperback novels and imagining dragons as I clattered down the grated silver steps of the Spring Creek air-bridge and squelched my way down the sidewalk toward my site.
My gray converse (yeah, great shoe choice) quickly soaked through and mud lipped their white soles. Raindrops pinged rings in the scrim of water covering the sidewalk. My thighs grew numb with cold and my chilled fingers flexed tight around the umbrella I carried, buffeting now and again in small gusts of wind. Yeah, I wasn’t spending much time out here today. Get in, get out—and probably no notes in situ, given that the ground where I usually sat was now a squelching mud mess. I expected I was going to stand in site for about fifteen minutes and just try to observe the sound of wind through trees, maybe a few low squawks from jays still squabbling it out in the rain with wet feathers, listen to the silence that comes over a meadow in the rain save for the drip of rain drops. Tomorrow I needed to write J2 and think of some past animal encounter I’d had—and, y’all, I’ve never really had one, save for a strange habit of dragonflies following me and a rabbit that once approached me in a cafe (long story). A warm shower back home after all this cold sounded just about right.
As I approached my field and the grove of cottonwood trees just north of the Spring Creek trail, where the sidewalk cuts through a field of young trees, something emerged. I stopped short and nudged sideways just in time to avoid being run over by a bicycle sliding by me. As I stared, the gray figure stepping out of the trees, about the height of a person (or so it seemed at this distance) and definitely not a pissed off hawk, resolved itself. A white-tailed doe stopped short about twenty yards away from me, both of us stopped at the edge of our ring of proprioception: this little spot of grass and invasive weed nubs in the middle of the field.
I stayed very still. At this distance, I could make out the dark ring of her nose and muzzle on her Y-shaped face, her long, blunt ears swinging back and forth to look at me. Her white tail swished and flipped every twenty seconds or so. She took one stiff step toward me, raising her pale yellow leg in a half-wheel motion and bringing it down, each bone of her femur and ankle hinging into place. Then another. Then another. She held her chest ramrod straight, hinged her neck up and down stiffly several times. Another step.
I’m no expert on deer behavior and I’ve generally never researched them much, but I know threatening behavior when I see it. Within a minute, I realized she was warning me. I obliged her and answered by taking a step back. (I had visions of deer quite literally clobbering people with their hooves. She was scared, I was scared, it was weird.) We held this parallel dance for a minute: without planning to, I stepped back at the exact same moment she took a step toward me. We stopped at the same time, moved at the same time. This was the closest I’d ever been to a deer.
She swished her ears again. I clutched my umbrella and finally said, “It’s okay.” She lowered her head and started nibbling graze, then raised her head again. She shook herself and rain formed a cloud of spraying droplets, silver, around her pale gray form. Her ears flopped back and forth with the shake. She went back to grazing. Then, behind her, I picked out another form: a second gray doe picking her way beneath the cottonwood branches and among the shrubs. Then a third, lifting her head to tongue down branches and leaves and bark into reach. A fourth emerged from the cottonwoods and started grazing a short distance from the first one, who now and again raised her head to stare at me further and then go back to eating. Soon, all four does emerged from the trees to nibble grass. When they walked, their heads bobbed backwards and forwards, a slow Z motion where their heads almost led the way, something I can’t quite describe. They bowed their heads and formed light gray bodies against the dark green and orange underbrush, their white tails and small pale butts facing me.
I know this is about to get real, but did you know that deer don’t go the bathroom standing up, like a horse? I didn’t know that. One crouched like a rabbit, her gray head and ears looking soft and formless. She straightened up again afterwards and kept walking. That explained the small shit piles I’d always seen not far from the sidewalk along the trail. The rain slowed but the air stayed cold. When I exhaled, my breath formed a gray fog between the deer and me.
All four of the deer swiveled their heads west, sharp weathervanes. I waited, expecting someone to come jogging out. Instead I heard hoofbeats. A fifth and sixth doe sprinted out from behind the field of young trees, leaping and bounding among the four already present. The four swiveled white ears toward them, and then all six dropped their heads back to the grass. After another few minutes, a seventh bounded out, silent this time.
The rain had mostly stopped by this time. A few birds key-key-keyed east of me, in the tallgrass and among the weeds. A blade-winged kite flew overhead silently, its wings angled to fine points against the sky. The deer lifted their heads to look at me, the new ones raising their heads and twitching their ears when wind creaked the ribs of my red umbrella. The one closest to me—the first one I saw—kept an eye on me but didn’t look at me much anymore. It felt, oddly, like meeting strangers on the bus—strangers that didn’t speak my language and who kept definite boundaries and barriers between my life and theirs, but that shared this common ground of using body language. I held my distance and watched. They slow zigzagged their way almost directly over the site I sat in last week when I watched the hawks, my usual “sits” place in my site. (I’m time-sharing the field, guys.)
A man bicycled by yacking loudly on his phone. The leader doe stiffened and stood her ground, while the rest turned and bounded away into the cottonwoods, white tails vanishing. A few minutes after he passed, red coat disappearing over the hill, they emerged again, grazing. Soon after a man pushed someone in a wheelchair down the sidewalk. The leader doe raised her head and stretched herself tall as she could go, taking stiff steps toward him and facing him as he went by, glancing at her without stopping. Her backwards-jointed hind legs stood pale yellow in the field. (An immune system of the field.) When he, too, disappeared over the bridge and was gone, she went back to grazing. The entire herd twitched and pinned their ears back when a bulldozer near the hotel a mile or so north of the cottonwoods started to grind, beep, and scrape up dirt. They kept eating. At a distance, they looked like Egyptian pictographs of the god Set or Seth, the shapeless animal with long gray face and blunted ears. For the delicacy of their long, stick-like legs, their ears flopped and swished, huge, and they sometimes shook rain from their hides.
I stayed until it no longer felt proper. “Thank you,” I said, bobbing at the knees a little, and finally turned and left. Yellow diamond-shaped signs and the long wooden fence parallel to the train tracks reflected in the now-still puddles bilged near the bottom of the hill leading up to the Spring Creek air bridge/tunnel. The wooden train tracks looked shiny and wet, reduced to tree pieces. I glanced back now and again. The deer receded north in to the trees as soon as I turned back south. From the bus station, I could still see the leader and one or two other does grazing by the trees. I glanced from them to the bus pulling up, and when I looked back, they were gone. The clouds were breaking up over the peaks and revealing thin traces of 50s-blue sky.
On the bus, I pulled the yellow cord for my station. Someone told me, before the bus lurched to a stop, to have a good day and be careful out there. I don’t know who this person was. I stepped down onto my station platform and started the winding walk home to tell you all this, rain ended and a broad gray sky opening wide above me.
(And here I was, thinking the site wouldn’t do anything for faith over time–forgetting again.)
(P.S. They were mule deer, looking at photographs online to compare. Which makes sense, given that Set has mule-like ears and these ears were HUGE and floppy andadorableomg. I couldn’t bring myself to take any photos in the moment.)
(P.S.S. My field did my homework for me, guys! Thanks, field!)