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Leaving The Forest For The Land Of Plows And Shovels

White-tailed deer tracks in snow.
White-tailed deer tracks in snow.

When the five deer first appeared — pausing at a neighbor’s, then coming into our yard — it was like a visitation from beyond. They seemed otherworldly with their stature and poise, warm brown against the awfully white snow.

I was in the kitchen when my husband yelled out, "There’s a deer in the front yard!"

Like the old man in the "Night Before Christmas" poem, I ran to the window. It was long after dark, but in the blinking streetlight I could see the one deer walking through the foot of snow that had just fallen.

Then behind it, another, and another and another. Five in all paraded down our road, through our yard, along the driveway, and then out back. Any place with easy access to food.

I couldn’t blame them for leaving the forest for the land of plows and shovels. It was the first substantial snowfall of the year, and I’d gone out into their yard earlier in the day.

I’d spent an hour snowshoeing up and over fallen trees and through thickets of thorns. It was beautiful as the late day sun made the snow crystals sparkle, but hard going because of so much uneven ground. No wonder the deer were venturing out to where walking was easy. I’d looked for tracks but only seen juncos flitting in the snow.

And now here they were, majestic, lean and lithe. Snowshoeing, I had worn three pairs of tights, two pairs of socks, winter boots, gaiters, and then the snowshoes. These deer had only their slim feet dressed in fine fur.

This is the time of year for gift-giving, and this felt like a gift — to be able to peer into the deer's world as they wandered about, looking totally at ease. It was like a tableau acted out for us, though it wasn’t an act.

This is also the time of year many people place fake deer on their lawns — deer made of plastic, wire and LEDs. They’re there to invoke fanciful visions of reindeer from Lapland.

What I love about these deer is that they’re our neighbors, Massachusetts white-tails. And we were lucky enough to see them.

Susan Johnson teaches writing at UMass Amherst.

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