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The Snow of the Deer
In Connecticut

So different from summer days -- the twitter and rustle of the woodland stilled, the leafy bowers and wildflower clusters gone, not a squirrel, not a woodchuck, not a chipmunk … not a single friend …nothing … empty.

September and October came hand in hand, scarlet women driven out by gray-clad November, and then December, and magic of the snow. Be still …. be still, it whispered, and the world listened and lay white and dreaming for sixteen weeks thereafter. Glorious, majestic New England snows of childhood. Fat, feathery flakes of snow spiraling to earth … a veil …a mantle …a mountain … peaked, puffed, powdered drifts as far as the eye could see. I remember them all, all of the lovely snows that now seem almost a thing of the past, perhaps because so much of the world that was once nature’s domain has become man’s habitat. In particular, I remember the snow of the deer -- a never-to-be-forgotten snow that carried with it a very special message.

In the middle of winter in my ninth year I had ventured out soon after a big snow. Behind me lay the old mill and the stream clicking and swishing around white-capped rocks, ahead the massive pines that guarded the forest sanctuary and the mysterious world beyond -- I paused a moment and entered in, although not very far because of the depth of the snow. From my vantage point I could admire the beauty of the woods so well known, visited so often. How different they were from summer days, though -- the twitter and rustle of the woodland stilled, the leafy bowers and wildflower clusters gone … not a squirrel … not a woodchuck … not a chipmunk … not a single friend … nothing… empty. Instead, frozen, textured air that one could almost bite into and let melt upon the tongue, scent of fir and hemlock, lullaby of wind through naked boughs, tiny creature prints on flawless drifts, a solitary cardinal violating the white ritual. No sound, no movement, no time, the world at peace, all living things bound in winter’s spell … and then the smallest movement … and I saw her! Ahead, beside a giant spruce, she stood. In summer days I might not have spotted her, but now, camouflage gone, she was starkly etched upon light and air. I dared not breathe. We watched each other for what seemed like an eternity, her dark eyes regarding me sorrowfully, both of us motionless, a silent communion in the forest cathedral, until a sound imperceptible to the human ear alerted her. Her graceful head lifted and she was away, her body arching skyward, a swift shadow departing to the depths of her kingdom, and I was, once again, the solitary wanderer. Empty space lay ahead where she had been, and still I lingered, approaching darkness at last drawing me home.

The image of the beautiful creature remained in my memory. The haunting grace, the unearthly majesty, the pride of bearing devoid of disdain, the courage which had brought her precariously close to the edge of the wilderness. I wondered as the weeks of winter passed if she were hungry, or cold, or perhaps lonely. I left food in the forest and solaced my child’s mind that she found it. In my growing understanding that the season might claim her, I realized she had taught me something of life in those brief seconds. Snow had been to me all good things, while to her, stripped bowers and barren earth were a hazard to be borne, unquestioning. She might die there in the wilderness, but she would do so with grace as she had lived because it was her destiny -- as fitting and unalterable as the passing of the seasons. She would not struggle awkwardly against the inevitable, she would not alter her life path, she would not seek to escape trial. She was a deer, and it was her place to inherit sorrow and solitude after her joyful summer journeys. If she survived the winter her young would be born, they would grow in the forest haven and travel into the winters of their lives as she had done. Such it was and such it was meant to be … the meaning of life, the essence … perfect in its conception, poignant and precise in its execution. And knowing this I grew to love the snow more, the beautiful snow that brought the deer to complete majesty.

The forest sanctuary, the omniscient deer, these are gone now. Houses and roads have transgressed upon that lovely place and, for some reason, winter is no longer the same … but, I remember. Someday, somewhere another child will wander another woodland and pausing on the brink of his tomorrows, he will see her and comprehend her message … in this world it is preordained that our triumphant journey must come, at last, to an end … the right to offer up our lives with honor comes only if we have met with courage and dignity the deepest snows in the most barren winters of our years.

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