The last day of 2018 I went tromping through the wilds of suburban creeks that divide backyards and subdivisions; carrying water, and waste out to the ocean. The area surrounding these small bands of water vary in size and the extent of the reclaimed wilderness. Through them birds build nests, deer create trails, and teens leave traces of their tiny rebellions.
The day was warm, for December, 40 degrees, and rainy. My sneakers sunk in the mud as I wound around plants confused by climate change. It was my goal, my hope, to find a shed antler. The internet had reported that the bucks here start shedding their antlers in December, so I set out wandering around the places I had seen deer before. It was by quieting to my core, scanning the trees and ground that I was able to find those small winding paths that took me past the tell tale signs of their presence: trees stripped of bark, piles of droppings, and matted grass where these gorgeous beasts rest.
I left some apples, too mealy for my own palate (I never made that apple pie I schemed a month ago), but hopefully tantalizing to these animals who can no longer raid backyard gardens. The practice of leaving offerings in these wooded areas is a habit of mine. There is a place along the creek I like to sit and write and stare at the sky. There I pick up bottles and other debris, I journal, note the growth of ivy, leave fruit, and sometimes find a deer staring at me. The exchange always feels mutual – I leave the creek, whether deer are seen or not, calmer and more centered. Each time I come back there is no sign that fruit has been left, or that someone picks up soda cans. It feels symbiotic, it feels right.
Half way through that December walk I wondered if I would actually see a shed antler. Without the context of a buck’s head, did I have a chance? I had no idea what to look for, beyond what the internet suggested. Suddenly all the deer I had seen in the wild, and all those mounted heads in family rec-rooms challenged my confidence. By the time I had walked a three mile loop of woods and homes and roads I came to terms with the fact I wouldn’t see a deer, or antler, and that perhaps my quest needed some grounding. Why did I go searching in the first place?
I’ve been a beachcomber since a child, so even though I eschew animal products when I can, my altars and offices are littered with seashells. These exoskeletons remind me of the crash of the ocean, the taste of salt, and the feeling of calm I have when facing something so big and so primal. At first I thought of a shed antler in much the same way – something left behind, and no longer needed by a creature I admire. And maybe it is, and maybe it is more rooted in the very exploitive way my species (and specifically white North American folk) can end up demanding something from the the earth and its inhabitants without serious thought. Just because I want a thing, doesn’t mean I get a thing.
I went back near the same spot today, this time the ground was covered in snow. I found another Deer Trail, slender, suggesting grace and conserved effort. They don’t want to be found, they want to meld into the drifts. Fat birds rolled around in the snow disturbing the pristine visage but deer everyone else seemed tucked out of view. Maybe they are waiting for those clumps of snow to fall from overhead branches, and winter to ease from piles of white back to a muddy gray, revealing what plants snow could not deter.
The scene was so quiet – I couldn’t find a spot to sit so instead I stood surrounded by trees and stillness and cold. It was a gift. I didn’t think about the antlers. I was happy enough to see hoof prints in the snow, and wonder when I could leave a new pile of fruit.