The white deer

| 01 Nov 2013 | 02:19

Everyone has a pocket of the universe where they are in their element. This brings me to the story of the white deer. It was born late—a good month after most of the does had dropped their fawns in June. She was tiny and stood out so clearly against the summer green in her snow-white coat that at first I thought she was a young goat. But what was a kid doing frolicking with a small herd of whitetailed deer? It didn’t take long before the piebald buck I’d seen tramping through the woods back in the winter, came to mind—an unusual sighting. This aberrant white fawn was not an albino; it had a black nose and dark eyes. She didn’t cavort like the other fawns, but seemed to hobble as though injured. My neighbor later told me he’d watched her being born in the woods behind our house. For the longest time she didn’t stand up and he wasn’t sure she ever would.

I watched for that fawn all summer, fascinated by its otherness. The mother remained with the herd—probably a close-knit family of aunts and cousins and siblings—but always on the periphery. Perhaps this was due to the fawn’s awkward gait which made it difficult to keep up, or perhaps the other deer sensed its difference and kept it on the outside of the group.

Now you have to know that there is no love lost between deer and me. All spring and summer, I rain down curses on their heads as they steadily munch their way through my garden, waiting until the moment the plants they’re not supposed to like have just begun to bloom. This little white fawn, however, had wormed its way into my affections. I was rooting for her, aware that she was the proverbial underdog. While the other fawns with their tan coats speckled with white spots blended in with the dappled shade in the woods, she was a misfit that stood out like a neon target. I waited to see what hunting season would bring.

By the late fall the other fawns had lost their newborn Bambi coloring, and like the older deer, were now well camouflaged against the monochromatic grey-brown woods. The white deer was a spindly adolescent, still well behind the other fawns in size. She often came close to the house to feed and I could see that her ears were brown and she had a smattering of tan freckles on her back—a pretty little thing. And a perfect target for a trophy kill, for those unfamiliar with the many mythic tales of the sacred nature of white deer.

In the folklore of many countries—Northern European, Native American, and Asian—the white deer is seen as a symbol of purity, but also of magic. In Celtic myth, the white deer was a messenger from the “other world” and could warn of a major transgression, or signal a significant change in the life of the person who encountered it. In Arthurian legends, the white stag or hart often appeared around King Arthur’s court but always eluded capture. It came to represent the spiritual quest. In many Native America legends the white deer was a sign of good fortune and to kill one was ill-advised; its hide was, on the other hand, highly prized for wedding clothes.

My reasons to root for our little white deer were obviously deeply ingrained. And she did survive until the snow came. At last she was in her element. I watched her through my bedroom window, snow falling softly around her as she pawed through drifts, unearthing tufts of grass. The speckles on the coat helped her merge beautifully with the bramble thicket, while the herd, feeding beside her, stood out like, well, brown deer in a snowstorm.

The white doe has made it through three winters—three hunting seasons. I always watch for the flash of white in the woods around the house. Sometimes in winter I’ll look out my bedroom window at night and find her sleeping right outside. No wonder she works her way into my dreams. This spring, on a damp, green morning, I looked up from my computer and watched her step out of the woods and pick her way daintily across the lawn, and there, several paces behind her was a tiny, spindly, fawn—brown with white spots. I shouldn’t have to worry about it, but I do.