This morning, I cranked open the kitchen windows as I do to herald the start of every summer day, and there she was, not 10 feet away from me, her ample brown body curled under one of the magnolia trees that shelter the back patio from the afternoon sun. Startled by the creak of the old hinges, she rose up, tossed me a quick glance over her shoulder and stepped gracefully off the patio into the backyard.
After stopping momentarily to check out the Japanese maple and finding it unworthy of her attention, the doe slowly meandered around the circumference of the yard, stopping to sample every plant on the buffet, lingering at some and quickly passing others – at times rising all the way up on her hind legs to reach the succulent leaves just within her reach. I watched her for a full half hour before reluctantly heading upstairs to take my morning shower.
By the time I walked back onto the patio, she had made it to my beloved hosta beds where she carefully removed one large heart-shaped leaf at a time, deftly chewing through each deep green border and white fleshy center as if nibbling on an ear of corn. When finally, with a flash of her white tail, she headed back into the woods, I picked up the hose to water the pots of red impatiens I’d been nurturing all summer.
Now I should tell you, red impatiens were almost impossible to find this year, and I went to five different nurseries to collect enough young plants to fill all the window boxes and planters on the little gravel square that has become my favorite spot on the property. The patio is shaded by a white maple tree that I planted almost a half century ago. Its canopy is now so dense that impatiens is the only plant I can get to bloom beneath it. Every morning, after I open the kitchen windows, I check the plants, providing just the right amount of water and Miracle Grow to keep them in flower.
It took me just a minute to realize that today there were no flowers – just jagged pale green stems reaching up from the pots as if looking around to see where their blossoms had gone. Apparently, the blooms had served as a midnight snack for the doe who had gone on to enjoy a leisurely breakfast at the newly discovered B&B.
None of this would have happened when Rosie was around. Rosie made an arrangement with the deer just as soon as she was old enough to patrol the farm alone on her fuzzy white puppy feet. By the time she was grown, the expansive area within the invisible fence belonged to the majestic oversized Border Collie who spent her days lying on the open tailgate of my Jeep surveying her domain and jumping off to chase away chipmunks, squirrels, the family cat and even errant leaves that dared to enter. Rosie did not, however, chase away the deer. For some reason, the herd of five who always seemed to be in residence, were welcome to cross her territory as long as they kept moving. Whenever they meandered through the yard en route from one section of woods to the other, Rosie calmly dismounted, walked a few steps in their direction and stood perfectly still, except for the metronomic swing of her extravagant black and white tail, until the invaders were safely beyond the fence. Knowing looks were exchanged. For 12 years, the truce was never broken.
Now Rosie is gone after suffering a stroke. Her scent must have lingered until last night. Now even that is apparentlygone and the deer are taking over. It’s OK, though. Rosie may be gone, but the invasion of the deer serves as a poignant reminder of her strong and steady presence on the farm. To tell the truth, I always liked the deer more than the flowers.