Deer Life

Deer live their lives according to the seasons. In winter here in California, they eat oak tree acorns; in spring, they nibble fresh sprouts of grass and budding plants; in summer, they eat berries and flowers; in fall, they seek out apple trees.

Stags sport majestic antlers in the spring, but by fall and winter, the antlers wither away. In winter, the fur of all mule deer becomes gray as the heavier fur grows longer as the days shorten. In summer, the fur is reddish against the golden hillsides.

In coastal California, fawns are born in April and stay with their mothers until the next fall. The fawns wean from their mothers within 60-90 days after birth so they can join in feasting on summer flowers.

Finding Deer

Here in California, we are visitors to the hills where mule deer live, and in return, they are visitors to our gardens. I most often see deer where groves of trees meet the grasslands. There is a canyon trail near my home where a bit of dark forest is preserved amidst the suburban houses. On this trail, I often see deer while woodpeckers whirl happily above.

One morning when I was driving very early, I came across a deer in our suburban road. I hope that she easily found her way back to the more sheltering canyon.

A Symbol of Majesty and Gentleness

Celtic folklore centers on the stag as a majestic and magic symbol. In this tradition, antlers symbolize the tree of life. In many stories, a white stag leads a hunter deeper and deeper into the forest where he realizes he must accept a quest (a quest hopefully more compassionate and meaningful than his original pursuit of hunting).

The magical wizard Merlin rides on a deer and leads a herd. Perhaps he goes to the forest to regenerate his magic.

In the Welsh tradition, the stag is one of the five oldest animals in the world. In order, they are the blackbird, the stag, the owl, the eagle, and the oldest of all, the salmon.

For me, the deer, especially does and fawns, have always represented a symbol of gentleness. What child can forget first seeing the movie Bambi. The scene where Bambi's mother dies is one of my first recollections of realizing that there is cruelty in the world.

The Native American tradition also focuses on deer's gentle quality. In one myth, a fawn begins a journey to the top of Sacred Mountain, but she must face a fierce demon on the way. When she encounters the demon, she politely and fearlessly asks him to let her go by. Overcome by the fawn's love and gentleness, the demon shrinks to the size of a walnut as the fawn continues her journey.