After meeting Lori for my morning walk, which starts just after dawn and ends an hour later, I drove home through the lifting fog. As I rounded the corner of my driveway, I saw a light brown body on the woody hill, about ten yards above the road. I thought maybe it was one of the calves we have turned in around the front forty, but when I pulled up closer, I could see that it was a doe.
It's not at all unusual to see deer along the driveway. They often cross it in front of me on their way to and from the meadow out front. Recently they've been crossing with fawns wobbling along behind. I always hold my breath when mama and baby approach the fence. The doe pauses, gathers and springs. In one leap, she arcs over. The fawn is left behind. It bleats and my heart stops for a moment. Surely mama won't run off and leave baby.
She doesn't. The doe waits patiently on the other side, ears and tail flicking, as her baby runs up and
down the barrier until it finds a hole big enough to wiggle through. Then the two of them bound through the blowing swells of grass until they are hidden from my sight. Deer that are standing or on the run are the norm.
But, this doe wasn't standing. I stopped the vehicle and turned it off right below her, and she looked at it curiously. My windows were rolled up, so she couldn't smell me. I thought maybe the doe was trying to give birth. I couldn't imagine any other reason that she would have been rooted to such a public spot.
The doe watched me, ears pricked forward, but she didn't get up and run.One of the gifts of retirement is time. I wasn't in a hurry, so I decided to just sit still and watch her watch me. Maybe I'd see a baby born, or maybe she was hurt. I would wait until I knew which was true.
The doe shifted around, ears still on alert. Then I saw her relax. Her ears rotated backwards. I didn't know deer's ears could do that. Usually I only see the front, pink centers because the deer are always considering whether to run or not..
Then I saw the doe's throat move. A tennis-ball-shaped lump rose to her mouth and then her cheeks ballooned out. She looked like a baseball player with a mouth full of tobacco. The doe began to chew and swallow. Smaller, ping-pong-ball-sized lumps slid down her throat after each gulp. Once her cheeks were empty, she burped and POOF her cheeks filled out once more.
I know that deer chew their cuds but I'd never seen one do it. They graze on high alert and then move to a safe spot to regurgitate and finish their meal. Obviously this doe felt safe perched in plain sight. While it was a wondrous sight, and I will add it to my list of things I never thought I'd see, it does beg the question. Have the deer become so immune to humans around them that they will decide to party in my yard and garden? I hope not. I don't want to wake up one morning and find them burping and chewing on my front porch. Deer are more beautiful when I see them infrequently. They probably feel the same about me.