The winter solstice has come. Every day now has that happy characteristic that it becomes a little longer than the day before, and we humans, along with many other creatures, being lovers of warmth and light, find this a happy turn of events.
The forests around me by the Red River, have a somewhat unusual appearance for this time of year: almost no snow. Just a dusting of snow lingers along some shady spots. I’ve seen this much whiteness in the forest in mid-summer after a small hail storm.
A doe comes in fairly close to me to my left, perhaps 15 feet away. She is obviously trusting of humans, as long as I don’t move.
Deer, like almost any wild creatures, are eternally fascinating. If they will tolerate us enough to come near, perhaps they would say that about us humans as well, that we are fascinating.
They seem to be gentle, almost fragile creatures, And yet I read only the other day about a boy who was gored in the legs by an antlered buck near his home.
They appear to be staring intently at times at something in the distance. And yet I understand their vision is not as good as ours, although their hearing is many times better than ours. They have their big ears cocked in the direction they are looking, so the ears may be doing most of the “looking” for them.
They seem to be skittish about being anywhere near humans that are moving about. It would seem that we humans suggest danger if we move.
Yet I remember we visited a deer park that used to be located near Walker many years ago. We were told we could picnic on the grounds if we wished, but we were not to disturb the deer.
So, we spread a blanket in a nice shady spot, set out our lunch and seated ourselves on the ground around the blanket, more or less ignoring the deer. However in a few minutes we discovered a half dozen deer had almost nosed their way up to the blanket. They had decided that now that lunch was served, they had been invited to “set up” and join the family. They had to be shooed away like flies.
The doe is munching on some grass near me today. Two yearlings join her. The yearlings imitate her for a bit but, like youngsters in any realm, they seem unable to concentrate on any one thing.
Suddenly the doe lifts her head and “looks” to her left, cocking her big ears, and studies something in the distance that I can’t perceive. The two yearlings imitate her for a few moments, and the three of them make quite a picture with their cocked ears. But after a few moments the two young ones tire of this gambit, and gaze about them for something else to grab their attention.
The solstice day is waning. In a moment the doe relaxes, and the three of them move away into the dusk.
James Alger, who lives in Fargo, N.D., has been a summer resident of the Leech Lake area with his family for over 45 years. Over that time he has grown to love and appreciate the people and the woodlands of this area.