The sky was just beginning to darken over the field when I caught the flash of a fluffy tail moving through the tall grass. Barely glimpsed in the low light, it looked canine to me. Coyote? I wondered. Drew and I had heard howling only the night before.
Standing out on my parents’ deck later that night, we watched massive shadows creep through the darkness behind the chicken coops, their heads bent low to feed. Had they gotten a chicken? Their eyes glowed spookily in the dim light from Drew’s flashlight. They were big. Far too big to be coyotes.
“Wolves?” we asked each other. We’d heard rumors of wolf sightings in our county, and these creeping shadows with the glowing eyes were certainly big enough to be wolves. They were almost as big as . . . deer.
Surely you can understand our confusion.
It’s embarrassing to admit, but after so many years away from the country, I’d forgotten just how long those white tails are and that their eyes reflect the light. Even more embarrassing, it wasn’t the first time I’ve been scared by a deer. I almost had a heart attack once in middle school when, walking to the car on another dark night, I heard a sudden snort and rapid hoofbeats only a few feet away. Later, I would learn this snorting sound signaled a possible threat. No doubt it was just as traumatic for the deer.
I never thought much about deer while in the city, save for when we got our hands on some delicious venison sausage. Now that I’m living back home again, it’s hard to avoid thinking of them. Deer are thick here, especially with the smoke flushing them out. Aside from turkeys, deer are our most frequent visitors. We walked out the front door yesterday morning to see a six-point buck maybe twenty feet away. It started, and then went back to grazing, until I tried to angle myself into position to snap a photo. We step over little piles of deer pellets on our morning walks, and sometimes pick our way through the trails they leave. We mark their footsteps, the depression of their bodies bending the tall field grass. Occasionally, we find their bones in the forest.
Deer have become a fact of life here in the country. We plot how to keep them out of our future gardens and away from the saplings we want to plant next spring. We talk about going hunting in the fall — we’ve never been, but Drew wants to try it, and we both love venison. We like to sit and watch them while we drink our coffee. It’s a simple pleasure, like accidentally flushing a flock of grouse out of the underbrush.
And we know now to be alert for the elusive Inland Northwest Wolf Deer, scourge of the tall grass behind the chicken coop. If you listen closely on a dark night, you might hear a snort . . . or maybe a howl.