One of the deer visiting on a Sunday in October
The doe moved, a dainty side-stepping, at the moment I lifted my eyes to the window. My hands stilled, the slicing of tomatoes and a yellow pepper halted as I scanned the rapidly darkening woods beyond the stable, expecting to see several other deer move gracefully down the steep hill.
The little band of deer, usually a group of four or five, are a familiar presence, often seen crossing through the scrubby saplings beyond the retaining wall or picking their way along the dry stream bed behind the workshop.
The doe seemed to be on her own, an indistinct wraith of a creature, her grey-brown coat blending with the quiet hues of tree trunks, melting into a surround of fallen leaves the color of old pennies.
As I watched, with a sense that she was aware of my serveillance, she flagged her white tail, and with a glance over her shoulder strolled past the half-dead sycamore and disappeared behind a brush pile.
I resumed preparation of the salad, fretting aloud to Jim that the doe was alone. He suggested, reasonably enough, that others of the family group may have passed through ahead of the doe or might be making their way through the woods out of sight.
Our lane meanders past the lower farmhouse and barn, dividing where the ground rises to the house on one side, the workshop on the other. The shallow valley narrows, wooded ridges rear steeply to east and west. Trees and underbrush close in beyond the stable that once sheltered an Amish buggy and the stall for a horse. In summer the ranks of trees create a green darkness; on a sunny day in mid-winter branches are etched in elegant tracery against a blue sky.
For each time that we notice the deer making their light-footed way down the hillside, there are doubtless many more when their quiet visitation is unseen.
With the doe out of sight we got on with supper, switching on lights in the kitchen as the sun disappeared behind the western ridge.
I was not thinking of deer 40 minutes later when, hastily pulling on a jacket, I went out with the veg peelings to be tossed on the compost pile. The sky to the north was a deep inky blue; looking southward it was a swirl of grey, faintly lavender streaked, touching the darkness where Spruce Pine Creek flows beyond the meadow.
Above the bare treetops contrails had brushed a wide and fraying "X." A thinner line of fading white unraveled above the eastern ridge. The colors of Jim's tractors, parked in the former stable, were barely discernible in the gloaming, red, green, blue. Sally, the contrary barn cat, was a blurred shape crouched on the wall.
I was startled when the doe bolted past me on the other side of the board fence, a faint warning snuffle, a rustling of small hooves in damp grass.
I crunched across the dooryard gravel, shook the contents of the compost bucket in the general direction of the refuse heap where they would likely make an evening meal for one of the omnipresent possums that trundle about on the edge of darkness.
The wind was picking up, a soft but definite riffle through the long-dried stems of goldenrod and frost asters. The scent of wood smoke mingled with the smell of cold earth. From somewhere up the ridge an owl called, a response floated back in mournful cadence from deeper in the woods.
I shivered, hurried through the garage and opened the back door to the lingering essence of an afternoon's baking--the homey aroma of fresh bread, of coconut and maple, of vanilla and spice.
A glance out the window as I moved toward the warmth of the wood stove, confirmed that in the space of a few moments twilight had deepened, erasing colors, blotting out the lines of stable and workshop, enveloping deer, owls, possums and barn cats in the soft dark cloak of a winter night.