Sleepy Hollow is the perfect place for a writer to live. I get a lot of writing done, when I’m not in my garden, that is. Our house is surrounded by woods and hills, with a creek dancing along the right edge that’s lined by giant rock sentinels. Apart from being charmed by the name of the area and its street names, like Van Winkle Drive and Ichabod Lane, I was thrilled to have a garden. Having lived for years in a flat by the sea in Greece, I’d made do with potted flowers. Now with almost an acre to plant, I couldn’t wait to get started.
I bought boxes and boxes of colorful blooms and dug daily, my nails turning brown, until that garden grew plush. I reveled in its vibrancy. Then deer came by the dozens, grown and small, with antlers and without. I’d never seen them up close. They seemed magnificent and graceful. A gift from nature, even.
Until the morning I discovered my garden now looked like leftover dinner salad. The deer had eaten their way through everything, even ivy vines. In dismay, I looked at where scattered specks of color that had once been my beloved flowers lay strewn, as though they’d tried to escape the terrible siege and had perished in the effort.
The deer became my enemy then. Armed with foul-smelling spray, I attacked. They retreated for a while, until they concluded that rotten egg and garlic spray made great salad dressing. They murdered my flowers a second time. This made me cry. Then it made me furious.
My husband couldn’t understand my perspective. He’d shared space with various wild animals since he’d been born. “Why not just plant things they won’t eat?” he asked pragmatically.
Judging by the predominance of oleander, everyone else had surrendered to the deer. But I wouldn’t. Now I’d run outdoors whenever I saw deer, shooing them away. I’d spray them with the hose while I watered my garden. They’d scramble momentarily, then come back again when they knew I wasn’t looking.
“It’s not personal. Stop planting deer food and they won’t come,” my husband said.
I despised the deer because I couldn’t thwart them. I was annoyed with my husband, too.
Then, on Father’s Day, I heard a high-pitched bleating coming from the other side of our creek. As I walked across the lawn to investigate, a doe stepped from behind a tree and stared down at me. A head-on stare is an unusual stance for a deer. Her ears were bent forward, and she was making a sound I’d never heard a deer make—almost a growl. The bleating started up again, much closer this time, and I understood. I was hearing the sound of her newborn fawn. She was a mother protecting her baby. I stepped back.
All at once, she staggered across the hill, swaying, until her knees gave way. She collapsed and began sliding down the hill. At any moment she’d come tumbling over onto the lawn where I stood. It was a pile of logs gathered at the base of the retaining wall that stopped her. I watched in horror as she thrashed on her side, her legs tangled in the logs, desperately trying to get her footing. Exhausted, she gave up. Then, from her prone position, she feebly but determinedly twisted her head up and looked at me.
She might’ve been afraid of me, because I’d always chased her kind away. But … no. I felt something else in that look. It was the look of one mother to another, going straight through me as surely as if she’d spoken. Because of that, I said this out loud to her: “I’ll find your baby. And I promise she won’t be harmed.”
It was as though she understood. With one weak nod, she lay her head down again, looked up at the sky and … those brown doe eyes slowly filmed white.
I ran into the house, calling for my husband, who came outside, peered at her and confirmed what I already knew. “She’s gone, all right.” Then, gently, “Where did you hear the fawn?”
Teary-eyed, I pointed in the direction of the creek. He said, “We’ll have to be quiet, or we’ll scare it.”
I followed him. I couldn’t see anything, but then he lifted his arm and whispered, “There.”
Sure enough, sitting in a bed of leaves, looking directly at us with curiosity, not fear, was the tiniest fawn.
My husband’s tone was regretful. “That doe was probably too old or sick to survive giving birth. That could mean she wasn’t able to nurse. That’s not good. If we can’t get milk into this little thing soon, she won’t make it.”
I was beside myself. I’d made a promise, and if my husband was right, I had to figure out how I, a woman who chased deer from her garden, was going to save this one. Marin Humane Society’s estimation was not so bleak. The vet determined that the fawn had been fed one last time by her mother. Her belly was still full. She’d be released when she was able to survive on her own, probably to eat my flowers another day.
As for her mother, the vet gently closed her eyes. Then he and my husband carried her down the hill and into the back of a second waiting van. I watched as it drove away.
I’m not Hindu. But according to Hindi tradition, Anahata is the fourth chakra, which symbolizes empathy and selflessness. This center force inspires humans to love, be compassionate, and divine the way things happen.
Wouldn’t you know it? The animal it’s represented by is the deer.
I’m not Hindu, I’ll say again. But I know what I experienced. That doe and I communicated through our bond of motherhood. We became more than two different species on opposite sides. With her dying breath, she looked at me—her enemy—and saw something in me that was like her. She knew she could ask for my help with the one thing left for her here to take care of—her most precious thing.
I didn’t let her down.
My garden is different now. I keep two giant pots of red geraniums high on a porch where no animals can reach, as a reminder that beauty can never excuse arrogance. The rest is filled with lavender. It smells wonderful. And the deer and I are at peace with each other.
Patricia V. Davis is author of the award-winning Harlot’s Sauce: A Memoir of Food, Family, Love, Loss, and Greece and the upcoming Diva Doctrine: From an Older Woman to a Younger One (Cedar Fort, 2011). Visit her online at patriciavdavis.com.