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Discovering Spring Babies

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Photo by Ernie Hawks Photo by Ernie Hawks

The Baby Trail

I was walking through our woods on the Baby Trail soaking up a new spring day. The snow had made it nearly imposable to walk without snowshoes until a couple of days before. As I meandered, I thought of why we had named this trail the “Baby Trail” several years ago.

It was a day very similar and I was in need of some woods time, to experience the new spring, so I left my work inside and started a wander. Rounding a bend in the trail I heard some small sounds and looked down. It appeared the ground was moving all around me. I didn’t feel anything but there was a lot going on where I stood. I soon recognized that grouse chicks were scurrying in every direction—must have been a dozen or more. Then, to my left, mama started making noise. First she ran directly at me. I thought it comical that a two-pound bird would try to chase me off but, to her credit, she tried. I stood there watching her and the babies.

When her threat didn’t work she suddenly had a case of a broken wing. She started to run away from me with a very convincing “wounded wing” gate. I didn’t fall for her “easy prey” scheme but moved away from the chicks just the same. In order not to stress them any more, or myself over unfinished work, I headed back to the house where my desk waited. 

Grouse medicine can be the representation of the sacred spiral. As we travel our sacred journey we circle around to earlier lessons and often get new understandings or completion of old issues. We are ever moving upward, yet always spiraling around past where we have been. It gave me something to think about.

That evening I was telling Linda about the sighting. She wondered if the chicks would still be in the area. 

For us, any excuse to take a walk in the woods will do. Even when that excuse is the very unlikely chance that a mother grouse would take her chicks back to the very same place something as big and scary as me had been lurking. 

I thought about grabbing a camera but knew we wouldn’t see any little birds so left the case closed. 

We wandered with Nikki, our dog, slowly in the direction I had gone earlier. Not being real confident in seeing wildlife we were getting caught up with a conversation of the day’s activities. Nikki sniffed and smelled her way just ahead of us. 

We rounded the bend in the trail and I said, “This is the spot and the babies were mostly running that way. I then turned a bit and pointed in the direction the mama had tried to take me. 

As expected, there was nothing there at all. I looked in the opposite direction on the off chance we would see anything. A step and a half from me, next to a big Douglas fir and lying in a tight little bundle, was a whitetail fawn. 

The nose of the deer was tight against its left hip, next to its tail. Nikki, standing next to me, hadn’t seemed to notice. 

I stopped saying whatever I was saying and just pointed; Linda took in a surprised breath. Nikki saw the object of our attention and stretched her nose until one of us called her. Nikki had not moved, but she stepped back looking a bit confused. I was surprised she did not seem to smell it.

Linda half whispered, “Do you have a camera?”

“No.” 

 “It will only take a minute, if you go the short way; see if you can get it.”

I left them there and headed through the woods—the most direct route. As quickly as I could and a bit out of breath I was back with a camera and lens. The fawn had not moved. Linda said it had been all she could do not to touch it but she just stayed back and watched for the mother. 

We know a doe will clean her offspring by licking around the muzzle and the anus so there is no smell. She will then leave if for long periods to forage, since a baby that young could not keep up. I had no idea how little odor the baby had but Nikki had to see it rather then sniff it out. 

Linda also knew mom could be back anytime and may not take her presence lightly, especially since she had a dog with her, so she kept a vigilant eye.

I got on a knee and carefully moved a twig that crossed the babe’s face and started snapping. It still did not move. That newborn gave me one of the finest photo ops I have every experienced. 

After a couple dozen shots or so we all left. That infant had not moved for at least fifteen minutes as we stood over it. 

Deer represents gentleness for some cultures. Looking at that baby there in a bed of pine needles certainly did give us that feeling—gentleness in its infancy.

Even after all these years, as I walk that trail I always think of that spring experience six or seven years ago. My sacred spiral journey continues and with that memory, gentleness fills me. 

We have deer in our yard regularly and there are some we are quite sure we have watched mature. We have witnessed the babies and seen their spiral into gentle maturity. 

Last November, several does and yearlings were hanging out in our yard. With the rut in the air, they were being wary. Suddenly, a handsome, six-by-six buck ran out of the trees with amorous eyes. All the ladies and children scattered. He wasn’t around long enough to get a photo even if I had been ready. I did get a good look. It may be hopeful thinking, but I think he was that baby we saw many years ago, who let us take all those pictures. 

Maybe not, but I want to think that. 

 

 

 

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Author info

Ernie Hawks Ernie Hawks is a former theater director who has branched into the creative fields of writing and photography. He lives in a cabin in Athol with his lovely wife Linda, and feeds the birds in his spare time.

Tagged as:

wildlife, photography, The Hawks Nest

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