Yesterday, as Vivian and I drove down the road in our pickup, in the distance we saw a deer with her newborn fawn cross the road. The mother deer ran into the woods as we passed (Which in itself is unusual. Most of the time they try to run in front of your car). However, the little fawn stayed in the ditch and watched us as we passed by.
I stopped, backed up the pickup, and when I got out, the little deer came running up to me. I petted his little head, and then it turned and followed his mom.
Such a cute little deer - bright white spots dappling his back, big eyes and ears, and legs about as big around as one of my fingers. Petting such a little fawn reminded me of something that happened on our farm about 30 Junes ago...
The sickle blade of the hay cutter snapped and snarled closer and closer to the little deer fawn lying in the hay field. The tractor, with its hay mower, began cutting the hay in the field by making a circle around the outside perimeter of the field and continued by making ever smaller circles in toward the center. The fawn, lying about one third of the way into the field from the edge, could hear the tractor as it circled around her. With each pass, as the tractor drove around the field in ever smaller circles, the baby deer grew increasingly frightened. My Dad, who was cutting the hay, did not know of the fawn laying in the tall hay. He was simply doing what was part of the work of a farmer – the annual ritual of putting up the hay crop so the cows would have food in the winter.
But the little whitetail deer fawn knew nothing of this. She had never even seen a winter and did not know what a winter was. Her life had begun only a week or so earlier and all she knew of eating was the warm, sweet milk from her mother. Other than that, she knew to lie still when her mother was not near. Whether this important part of her preservation was something that was in some mysterious way communicated to her by her mother, or an instinct placed into her by God, we cannot tell. In whatever way the knowledge had come to her, the baby deer had learned that a small, white-speckled fawn lying still as a stone in the sun dappled shade of the grass is very difficult to see, even if one knows where to look.
But the little fawn was getting increasingly nervous. At first it was not difficult to lie still as the roaring monster thundered on by. It did not pass very near to where she lay in the grass and it seemed to go away. But then it returned. This time a little closer, as if it were looking for her. It kept going away and returning, but every time it came nearer to where she was lying.
Dad guided the tractor and the hay mower. His eyes were at once on the edge of the uncut hay and on the sickle bar. The right wheel of the tractor had to be kept just at the edge of the long grass so the sickle would cut every strand. As he watched the rattling knives, the cut hay fell neatly back as the sickle bar passed just above ground level.
The dew was still clinging to the grass, leaving the sickle knives shiny and slick. It was a beautiful day – a good hay day. After the mowing of that field there was another field that was ready to be baled as soon as the sun had dried off the dew. There was a lot of work to be done while the sun was in the sky. “Gotta make hay while the sun shines”.
The little fawn began to find it difficult to lie still. The monster was returning! This time it seemed to be coming even closer! Every fiber of the little fawn’s body was telling her to get up on her wobbly little legs and flee the best that she could. But that inner terror was being countered by the instructions of preservation that she had understood. Her best protection was to lie as still as a stone. God, in His love for little fawns, had even provided that they would not have the scent of a deer until they were older. Huge monsters could roar on past within grabbing distance and not see nor smell them.
Dad’s eyes were fixed on the sickle bar, but far in the corner of his eye something registered that was out of place. Something was in the grass. A stone! Oh great! Stones dull the teeth of the sickle and might even break one of them. And he wanted to finish mowing this patch so that it would be ready to bale the next day.
But no, it isn’t a stone! Both of Dad's feet moved at once. One foot to press the clutch of the tractor to stop the engine from powering the wheels, and the other foot to hit the brakes as hard as he could.
The little fawn was trembling now. Which voice should she listen to? Flee or lie still? This monster seemed to be devouring everything in its path. Its jaw was enormous and its noise hideous. Flee or lie still?! She started to rise to her frightened and wobbly legs…
Dad saw the little fawn just as she started to move. His foot was pressing hard on the brakes but the momentum of the tractor still carried it ahead. As he was trying to stop the tractor, the fawn could no longer control the internal call to flee and began to rise to her feet. The two met – the monster and the fawn. The point of meeting was the unknowing and unforgiving sharp blade of the hay cutter, and the front left leg of the little fawn. The tractor was now stopped, but the damage had been done. The green grass was stained with red.
The goals of the work day were now forgotten. Dad picked up the little life and cradled her in his arms. Blood was coming out of the stump of a leg that remained and it ran down the front of his shirt. He gently brought the little fawn back to the house where the wound could be cleaned and bandaged.
My Mom and my younger sister were home. “Why was Dad walking in from the field?”
“He must have broke down. Just when there was so much to do.”
“But he's carrying something in his arms. What is it?”
The mother and daughter at once became nurses and veterinarians in an emergency ward. They got warm water and a gentle soap to clean the wound. They cut up an old shirt that could be used for a bandage to stop the bleeding and tried to invent a way to keep the bandage from coming off as the fawn struggled.
Mom spoke, “The little deer, (or maybe she meant dear) does not know that we are just trying to help! Go get one of the calf pails with a nipple and I'll warm up some milk. We’ll see if we can get some food in this little one.”
But the fawn did not understand any of this. Back near where her mother had left her in the field she had felt the cold hard teeth of the monster. To her amazement, the roaring giant did not devour her instantly as she saw that it had done to the grass. When the monster had stopped, the little fawn thought that it was her chance to escape. But the pain! Besides that, her legs were still those of a wobbly little deer, and now she was without one of them.
When the coldness of the monster’s teeth ceased, another part of the monster caught her and lifted her from the ground. Unlike the cold and unforgiving teeth that had cut her, this one had arms that felt warm. The little fawn struggled to get loose, but the arms were strong and held her firm.
I, myself was at my own home. My wife, Vivian, our little boys, and I lived on our little farm about four miles away. We had just moved there and were not farming but we helped out the folks when there was work to be done. It was a good hay day. By now, I was sure Dad should about have that field cut and I should get over there so we could get the hay that was ready into the barn before nightfall.
My red pickup billowed up dust from the road as I pulled into the yard at my Dad’s. “Why was everyone standing out on the lawn?”
I joined them and tried to help in the attempt to get the little fawn to take the nipple of the calf bottle. We all knew the teaching process. We all had done it countless times with countless calves. Some calves took to it almost immediately and some were very reluctant to trade the soft, warm, natural nipple of their mother for the cold rubber of the bottle. But all eventually learned.
But the fawn was not a calf. She was hurt and she was frightened. She did not know where her mother was and these new creatures seemed to be becoming more numerous. They were not eating her but their actions were strange and sometimes pained her. “Why are they trying to put this smooth stick into my mouth?”
Vivian and I did not have cows on our little farm. We did have a few goats. The only reason I can give you for this is because Vivian thought they were cute. As far as I could see, they just kept getting into trouble and eating the little trees I had planted around our house and barn.
We had one goat that had just given birth to a little kid goat a couple of weeks earlier. That night before we had suffered our own little tragedy on our farm. The little goat had gotten himself entangled during the night and had strangled himself. I had put its lifeless little body in the ground earlier that same morning. I didn’t want Vivian to see it. She would be sad.
Over at my Dad’s, as we tried to get the little fawn to drink from the pail, a thought came to me. “I wonder....”
The mother goat’s name was Daisy. She was always ornery, but was so especially that day. I think she somehow blamed me for her little kid’s death. She fought me when I walked up to her, but after some rather forceful convincing, into the back of the truck she went.
“Come on, Vivian. You’ve got to see this.”
Our oldest son, Jesse, was only a little boy and Matthew just an infant. We four in the cab, and Daisy in the back, our truck sped down the road toward Dad and Mom’s.
“Do you think Daisy will let her drink?”
By the time we got to Dad’s, the little fawn had received a name from my sister. “Faline.” I thought it sounded like a cat’s name but she told me it was the name of Bambi’s girl friend.
Daisy, too, had had a bad day. She was accustomed to be the one giving trouble, but on this day everything was going wrong for her and she was upset in every way. Now it seemed like everyone was expecting her to nurse this little deer. “Are these people so cruel that they think that they can take the life of my own little kid and then try to force me to accept this other little creature, whatever it is?”
Daisy’s udder was laden with milk. By this time of day the goat kid would have normally sucked her dry. But that morning there was no little goat. Daisy struggled and kicked at the prospect of having this strange little one take the milk of her own kid. But she did not have much choice. I straddled her and held up her hind leg on one side so my sister could try to get the little deer to take to the surrogate mother’s milk.
Faline was feeling a little better. After the bandage got on she saw that it offered her wound some protection and it did not hurt quite so much. She was actually feeling a little hungry. By now she, too, would have eaten a hearty breakfast from her mother. Where was her mother? she wondered.
Faline was about to meet another strange creature that day. The first creature was hard and cold and had sharp teeth. This one seemed strangely familiar. It was not a deer, but there were some similarities. One of the similarities suddenly became very obvious. Although this new creature did not seem completely agreeable to the idea, it had milk in the right place and dispensed it in the correct fashion. Not as good as mom’s, but warm and sweet in its own way.
That was how it began. Faline seemed very content with the new arrangement, but Daisy never did warm up to her role as surrogate mother to a little whitetail deer. In the midst of the heavy work schedule of a summer on the farm, several times during each day someone would have to hold Daisy still so Faline could drink.
Faline grew healthy and strong. She began to eat clover and grass from around the farm and I think Daisy must have taught her also how to occasionally get into a bit of mischief. As Faline got older she would run in the fields. When she walked she of course had a very noticeable limp, but I was amazed at how swift and smooth her gate was when she ran. Watching her run across an open field one would never suspect she was missing most of one leg.
Some evenings we would see her running and playing with other deer who had come out from the woods to eat and romp in the fields. It was like kids from two different neighborhoods getting together to play. Their backgrounds were different, but their games were the same. At the end of the play, the other deer would disappear into the woods and Faline would come back to the farm.
As she grew older, Faline would sometimes disappear for a couple of days. We would wonder if she had gone to live with the rest of the deer and if she would ever come back. She did. While she was out in the woods, she must have had some memory of her strange family background and came back to see us.
One autumn day I was over at my Dad’s doing the evening chores. Mom and Dad had gone someplace that evening. In the past weeks we had noticed a young buck sometimes hanging around the farm, and sometimes had seen him and Faline together.
The big barn door faced the woods. In moments when I was waiting for the milking machines to finish milking the cows I would stand at the door and look out across the field to the woods. The maples were in full color and here and there a tall pine tree stood up to proudly display its deep green that it refused to give up for the coming winter.
As I looked out over the open landscape, I saw two deer run across the field to the woods. One of the deer had the spiked antlers of a young buck. The other, even though one would not notice it, I knew had one front leg that had been cut off by a mower. The two deer disappeared into the dark of the trees. This time, Faline did not return. She had remembered her true beginnings.
“Good-by Faline. Good-by girl.”
A happier ending one could not imagine.