June nativity scenes

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(HOST) Commentator Willem Lange enjoys nativity scenes at Christmastime; but his house is surrounded with them in June.

(LANGE) The dog and I were going down for the paper quite early, the dog about a hundred feet ahead of me, happy to be on an im- portant mission. Suddenly, a big doe exploded out of the swamp on our left and leaped across the driveway. The dog dashed after her with a fierce growl, till I hollered, “Hold it!”

Then we heard a strange barking coming from the woods where the doe had disappeared. We both stared, and here she came! She charged toward us and stopped a few yards away. I could imagine only one thing that would drive her to this. “Come on,” I said to the dog. “Let’s get the paper and get out of here.”

But as we passed the same spot on the way back, the doe yapped and charged us again. Then it dawned on me: She was “dragging her wing”, the way a partridge does when you get too close to her chicks. She’d no doubt just given birth, and we were tromping through the nursery.

That was the day a cold front blew through, with lightning and thunder and tree-toppling winds. I thought of that fawn all day.

I’m a softy when it comes to nativity. Besides its critical position at the junction of life and death, the vulnerability of both mother and child (or children) is deeply moving to me. With some species – like bears, for instance – you don’t have to be sympathetic to leave them alone; just smart’ll do. But generally, in the month of June, I try to tread lightly among the creatures with newborns. I regret the corpse of a fox or groundhog beside the road because it might have been a parent foraging for offspring now starving in their den and wondering what’s happening to them.

On my way home the same day, I saw something big in the road. Another mother: a snapping turtle headed back to her pond from laying her eggs on the other side of the highway. I put on my flashers and stopped. Twenty pounds, I figured, but scared stiff, hissing at me and pretty ugly. Still, another turtle had found her attractive, so who was I to judge? I held her stretching beak away from my leg, carried her to the edge of the pond and set her down.

Later in the evening, Mother and I went out to eat. Just before ten, coming home, we turned into our dirt road. Up ahead, by the foot of the driveway, something was standing in the road. As we ap- proached, it untangled itself and turned into a large doe and a fawn no bigger than a terrier. The doe stepped into the swamp, and the fawn, still wobbly on its legs, tottered slowly after her and disap- peared.

This is Willem Lange in the maternity ward in Etna, and I gotta get back to work.

Willem Lange is a contractor, writer and storyteller who lives in Etna, New Hampshire. He spoke from our studio in Norwich.

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