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"Just be who you are, calm and clear and bright." - Richard Bach, Illusions: The Adventures of a Reluctant Messiah

The Pace of Nature

On a recent trip to San Francisco I reconnected with Maura McElhone, a friend from Galway and fellow graduate of the M.A. in Writing program at NUIG. A native of Derry, Maura now lives in Northern California. She says, “I firmly believe that life isn’t so much about where we are or how we live, and all about who we’re with as we live it. I dream of publishing a book, and of that book making an impact on someone, somewhere in the world.” When she told me about making a set of extraordinary friends on four legs, I asked if she’d write a guest post for me. I hope you enjoy this story as much as I did.

 

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Illustration by Claudia Campazzo.

 

 

Adopt the pace of nature: her secret is patience.

—Emerson

 

It’s a chilly enough evening here in the north San Francisco Bay Area, but I’ve left the living room window open. I need to keep a constant ear out for them, you see: the deer that come by most nights now for a quick snack, and, in the case of one very special animal, the odd head rub, too.

I first met the deer I’ve come to know as “Gimpy” a little over a year ago when he, along with his mother (easily distinguishable by the sizable notch in her right ear and named “Mango” after the sweet yellow fruit that was the first thing she ate from my hand), would stop to graze on the grassy hillside just beyond my apartment during the spring and summer months.

Once the temperature dropped and winter came, the deer disappeared. To where, exactly, I don’t know. The fantasist in me likes to think of them kicking back with a cocktail on the deer equivalent of Barbados while waiting out the colder months.

When they returned in May of this year, I immediately noticed that the baby was having difficulty walking. It was only when the animals came closer that I was able to see the white bone protruding from his right hind leg. The break was clean, but this offered little consolation as I watched the tiny Bambi-like creature hobble around, dragging the useless limb behind him.

I began ringing various animal rescue centres, but at 9pm, only the answering machines were picking up. Finally, I got through to a woman in Virginia who ran a deer rehabilitation centre. She advised me not to ring the local humane society, but rather, to “let nature do its thing.” Breaks like this are common in young fawns, apparently, and if the animal is at all mobile, and its mother is still with it, it stands a good chance of recovery. The best thing I could do, she told me, was to give him food and water: let him come to associate that grassy hillside as being a safe haven, a place he could come for sanctuary or help. “If he needs you,” she said, “he’ll find a way to let you know.”

Looking at it on paper now, it does seem slightly ridiculous: the idea of this wild animal going out of its way to seek help from a human, a creature they fear from birth. At the time, however, I didn’t linger on the logistics. All I knew was that as long as this little animal continued to find his way to my apartment, I would do everything I could to care for him. I knew it would be tough. I was a human seeking to make a difference in a world that wasn’t mine, after all. The only way this would work would be if somehow deer and human could meet halfway.

So I interfered as little as possible. When Mango and the fawn I’d taken to calling “Gimpy” came by, I’d feed them and during the particularly hot days this summer, I left out a basin of water from which they drank readily. There was a period of maybe two months when I didn’t see either deer, and while I worried, I had to trust that as long as nature was in charge, things would play out as they were meant to.

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As it turned out, he’d managed just fine. When he returned with Mango in early August, I saw that as the woman in Virginia had predicted, bone had met bone, and while he’ll never have a fully functioning limb, the break had healed enough to allow him to put weight on that leg. In fact, when he’s standing still, you’d be none the wiser about the injury at all. Only when he begins to move does the slight limp give him away.

More than a year has passed now since Mango and Gimpy first appeared, and rarely a week goes by when they don’t visit. But I’ve never grown used to it. I hope I never do. I hope that in the months and years to come, each and every visit still fills me with the same sense of humility, wonder, and privilege that I feel now.

All too often we are reminded of the separation between our own human world and the natural world, reminded that these two worlds should not and cannot intersect without negative repercussions for one side or the other. Indeed, for most people, the closest interaction they’ll have with a deer is if they have the misfortune of hitting one with their car. It’s why I’ll never take for granted moments like the one I was witness to this past July when I lay on my tummy on the floor for fifteen or twenty minutes, hardly daring to breathe for fear of interrupting the scene that was playing out before me: Mango licking Gimpy’s injured leg as he nuzzled her back. A mother caring for her baby, the most natural thing in the world, and a reminder that for all our differences, we’re actually not all that different.

Perhaps that’s the draw for me. Why wouldn’t I chance a relationship with these creatures who live lives not unlike ours, but better? Innocent and pure lives free from the weight of worry and stress; lives that revolve around eating, resting, and nurturing relationships with those most dear to them. Lives in which decisions are driven purely by instinct and trust. How lucky am I to be invited into this exemplary way of being, if only for a few moments at a time?

And when it comes down to it, that’s why I keep the windows open and brave the autumn chill: to hear the crunch of forest floor under hoof—my cue to slow down, to ready myself for another foray into this realm that exists only at the point at which our two worlds overlap, for a few moments of perfect cohesion and beauty.

I step out onto the balcony and cross to the railings; on the other side the shy doe with the nick in her right ear and the baby with the bad leg are waiting. I drop to my knees and stretch my arm through the railings, apple slice in hand. And while neither mammy or baby hesitates, their large, brown and innocent eyes remain locked on me as they move forward. Then, going against everything their instincts tell them, they take the treat from my hand, sometimes even allowing my hand to rest for a few moments on their heads.

And that’s when I’m in it—that perfect place that exists only at the midpoint between our two worlds and only for as long as the deer are willing to extend to me their trust. It’s quiet there, the only sounds coming from the mouths of the deer as they munch their apples and carrots. And it’s still. It has to be. The deer are skittish, likely to bolt at any sudden or unfamiliar noise or movement, shattering the perfection of these moments. No matter how busy my day has been, or how much I’ve been running around, when I arrive at this place where our two worlds come together, I’m forced to slow down, and to stop. If these creatures can overcome their inherent fear of humans enough to grant me these few special moments, it’s the least I can do to respect and embrace the rules of conduct in their most simple, innocent, and uncomplicated of worlds.

But that’s just my view from the inside. On the outside, at that cross section where nature and civilization collide, look up on the hillside and what you’ll see is nothing more exceptional than a 29-year-old woman, down on bended knee, offering an apple in her outstretched hand, to a baby deer with a gimpy leg who willingly accepts.

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Find Maura on Twitter at @maurawrites, and read more of her writing on her blog.

Illustrator Claudia Campazzo was born and raised in Chile and is also a classically trained violist and violinist. You can find more of her lovely work on her blog.

15 Comments to The Pace of Nature

  1. Barbara's Gravatar Barbara
    November 26, 2013 at 4:36 pm | Permalink

    I find your story about meeting this lovely deer family very touching and hope that your friendship will continue for many years and that they will remain safe and healthy.

    • Maura's Gravatar Maura
      November 26, 2013 at 10:01 pm | Permalink

      Barbara, thank you so much for your kind words. I hope our friendship will continue, too!

  2. JL's Gravatar JL
    November 26, 2013 at 5:05 pm | Permalink

    What kindness and compassion! I love that while you are caring for them you remain so grateful to *get* to do it. Lovely.

    • Maura's Gravatar Maura
      November 26, 2013 at 10:03 pm | Permalink

      Thank you, JL. It truly is an honour (and a treat!) to be invited to interact with these lovely creatures. Thank you for reading!

  3. November 26, 2013 at 6:12 pm | Permalink

    What a lovely story. It’s heartwarming to know that in a world where life is often not respected, you take the time to connect, with humility as well as respect. I sincerely hope this experience leads you to even more peace and compassion in your life.

    • Maura's Gravatar Maura
      November 26, 2013 at 10:06 pm | Permalink

      Thank you, Adrienne! Unless we can take a few moments to stop and appreciate the special moments and relationships we’ve been blessed with in our lives, then is it really a life worth living? I would argue no. Thank you for your kind words, and for taking the time to read! I wish you peace and happiness, too 🙂

  4. November 26, 2013 at 9:48 pm | Permalink

    What a lovely piece about focusing on the beautiful things in life that we often overlook due to our daily worries and preoccupations. It is a reminder to enjoy the beauty that is all around us when we slow down and live in the present moment.

    • Maura's Gravatar Maura
      November 26, 2013 at 10:09 pm | Permalink

      Miriam, how are you, stranger?! So lovely to touch base with you here, and thank you for the kind words. Hope you’re well! x

  5. November 26, 2013 at 10:57 pm | Permalink

    Oh my, such a beautiful story! It would have been very hard for me to just let him manage “on his own” too.

  6. November 27, 2013 at 1:03 am | Permalink

    What a beautiful privilege for you and these darling deers! I love your description of how your day slows to be just about these precious moments – life at its best!

  7. Kate's Gravatar Kate
    November 27, 2013 at 10:14 am | Permalink

    I always thought of deer as large rodents. It took a trip to Uganda for me to appreciate what beautiful animals they are.

  8. Amirtha's Gravatar Amirtha
    November 27, 2013 at 10:39 am | Permalink

    What a great experience! I love the way you feel privileged to have this friendship! I am very happy for you and thank you for sharing such wonderful, heartwarming and an exceptional relationship. Hope your friends keep in touch with you for a long time! Take care!
    Love,
    Amirtha

  9. eimear's Gravatar eimear
    November 27, 2013 at 2:52 pm | Permalink

    I’m so proud that my lovely eldest daughter has written such a beautiful, evocative piece. I may not share your passion for the animal world, Maura – does anyone? – but I loved this really thought-provoking story. And thanks to Claudia for the gorgeous, gentle illustration. Take a bow, all of you.

    • November 27, 2013 at 6:15 pm | Permalink

      Thank you very much!It was so nice to illustrate such a beautiful story and even nicer to work with Maura!

  1. By on November 26, 2013 at 9:58 pm

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Hi! I'm Camille. I only write stories that could never ever happen in real life, though I do believe in real-life magic. If we were in the same room I'd fix you a cup of tea, but for now we'll have to settle for a virtual connection. I'm really glad you're here.
Photo by Anne Weil