Deer at dusk

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(HOST) Willem Lange and his wife entertain a group of graceful neighbors who drop in every afternoon.

(LANGE) It’s probably not very polite to call ladies crepuscular. But that’s what these ladies are.

Actually, it’s not such a bad word. Comes from the Latin crepusculum, meaning “twilight.” Ladies of the twilight doesn’t sound very nice, either, does it? But it’d be hard to imagine lovelier ladies than these.

I’ve been working on the west side of the house in the long afternoons. The pounding is pretty loud. The dog hates it, and the neighbors can hear it, as well as the ladies up on the hill. They won’t come down till I stop. They like it quiet.

They also won’t come as long as the sun is shining on the hill. It’s in their eyes that way, and like all wild creatures, they like the sun behind them. So I have time to take a shower, pour a drink, and settle down to enjoy their arrival.

It’s amazing an animal so large can be all but invisible until it moves. In the summer they’re red, and in the fall and early winter, gray as the brush and trunks of the bare trees. I rarely see them until they’re quite close. But suddenly there’s one, under the hemlocks, her neck stretched out toward the corn on the ground. Sometimes it’s two, or a mother with twin fawns, now grown to young ladies. Their huge mule’s ears swivel and pivot independently in every direction. But they’ve never been harassed here, and they sense the dog is harmless. She watches them from her bed near the gliding doors of the office.

It’s difficult for us predators to imagine a life so circumspect and fraught with danger. I sometimes fantasize a revolutionary might rise up among them and incite them to resistance against skulking hunters and late-winter dogs. They aren’t going to do any such thing. They’re peaceful creatures. But I can’t see that any more of them get slaughtered than do we.

They’re distinct from each other – some slender, some stumpy. One we call Pie because of her white-pied coat. The big, pushy one who keeps the others at leg’s length is probably a buck, but we can’t be sure. There’s a little, runty one, who defers to all the rest and stands alone at the edge of the woods, watching them gobble up the corn. Sometimes she comes alone at dawn to see what’s left. Another, a female, appears at times to have a nervous stomach. But what she’s got is a hyperactive fawn or two in there.

We realize that in much of suburban America deer are considered a pestilence, a forager of ornamental plantings, and a threat to Volvo fenders. But out here, it’s pretty peaceful, and a few flowers are a small price to pay for the pleasure of the company of such graceful guests. In a few weeks we’ll begin to see the tottering little fawns, bending down to get a drink at the pond and momentarily silencing the spring peepers. Ah — how we will miss all this someday!

This is Willem Lange up in Etna, New Hampshire, and I gotta get back to work.

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