A hunter tells me he feeds the deer on this property, this is days after the season is declared closed. He is young and he is earnest and the boy who learned to shoot shines thru, together with the one who husbands the deer today, the one who lugs home great, heavy bags of feed to place in the great, heavy bin he just bought, new, for this purpose.
We talk again and again about the deer, I see them again and again as they come to feed; they eat and move on, return eat move on. I somehow think they only come at day, until one night, under a sleepless, snowy full moon, I look out to the plateau on the hill outside the window and see them, see the shadows of the deer eating, moving on, returning. Their coats are winter camouflage, their visits ethereal.
Eventually I offer to pay, to chip in for the feed. The hunter thanks me but won’t hear of it. He tells me about the feed, about the important ratio of grains, of the need for the cut of molasses. I listen while I try not to think of the hunting.
I try to remember, instead, that the hunters here eat what they kill, that there is no waste of any part or piece. I try to remember that this is cyclical, that we are just animals, too, joined in the great chain of life.
I try without success.
The deer know the sounds of our vehicles, know the look and the sway of the hunter who feeds them. They look at me sometimes, too, as if to say, where’s breakfast, dinner, supper, their little deer faces made for just this moment. I try not to think of the hunting part. I do not name the deers, tho Bambi of Disney echoes in these woods.
These thoughts I try not to think are like the deer: they appear they feed they move on they return.
Until one day I come up the drive and see the hunter at the top. He’s standing full on in the middle of the flat place, he is circled by about 15 deer who are just at the fringe of the forest, waiting, watching.
I come up the drive unnoticed because the tableau is complete––the hill, its plain, the deer, the whole bag of food, newly opened, planted on the ground between his legs, the hunter scooping with both hands, bare and full, his arms lifting and flinging the feed with an abandon than can only be named joy.
I had thought it was named therapy or even penance, until he confides to me after a while, as we stand and watch these creatures feed, the hunter confides to me that even tho he goes to camp each season, he hasn’t shot a deer for years.