The doe stepped forward out of the forest, the grass bending quietly beneath her feet, her soft tan and white hide blending in with the trees. She stopped suddenly, on the alert; something wasn’t right. Her muscles tensed, her ears flicked forward and her nose searched the air. There! An interloper!
It was a human, standing next to a young cherry tree. The doe froze in place…she mustn’t be seen. The human moved forward, towards the next tree – closer to the doe. Quickly the doe turned and ran back under the cover of the trees.
The human, her long dark brown braids shaded by a wide-brimmed sunhat, looked up at the sound, but saw only the leaves rustling in the doe’s wake. She went back to her work hanging soap bags on the young trees, the smell of which would hopefully ward off the deer from eating the leaves.
The doe watched her from the shelter of the forest. The doe was alone. She had no fawn this year. She had given birth to a freckled spindly-legged buck in the spring…but he had died. She had left him in some tall grass one sunny morning while she foraged for food, carefully instructing him to stay where he lay and not move.
What she didn’t know was that she had left him in the road that looped around the orchard. When the red flatbed truck followed the road, the driver did not see the fawn hidden in the tall grass. And the fawn, torn between his fear of the hot, growling beast, and the desire to obey his mother’s will, stayed frozen in the grass.
When the doe came back, stomach full, she could smell that something was wrong in the air. She smelled fuel – a human smell…and fresh blood – a warning smell. She walked slowly forward through the cherry trees, calling her mother-note softly and uncertainly. When she came to the spot in the grass where his body lay, she sniffed him slowly and then melted back into the trees, fear whispering in her ears. She would have another fawn next year…when the world was kinder and she was wiser. This fawn would grow to healthy adulthood, and the doe would not be alone anymore.
But for now…she was.
She watched the orchard for when the human left, then crept out of the forest when she knew the coast was clear. She was looking for the small cherry trees – the ones with the new, tender leaves that tasted sweet beneath the teeth. Something smelled odd though – perhaps the human was still there. She retreated back into the forest. She would come back to the orchard tomorrow. And the next day. And the next. Until the dangerous human smell was gone.
The smell was the soap bags that the girl had hung. The deer – the doe and her friends, had been reeking havoc on this orchard. Each leaf that they ate shortened or ended the life of a small cherry tree. The destruction the deer left behind cost the farmer a lot of money and many hours of work…and could set the production of the orchard back by years. This, the girl with the long braids and the wide-brimmed hat knew. So she hung soap bags and dryer sheets and sprayed the trees with a putrid-smelling liquid.
The doe, now, she knew nothing of farming or money, and wouldn’t understand it if she did.
What she did know was that the leaves of the little trees were easy to reach and pleasant to eat, one of the finest bits of food to be found on this plot of land that she called home. This, she would remember every spring so that she could come back for another taste.
…and, this, she would teach to her children.