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Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Who's that behind the fallen pine?

Oh, my deer. Something's wrong. 

December 14, 2016. I'm watching Pinky and Flag, Ellen's orphans, when I see an adult doe hanging shyly behind the dying pines in our back yard. She's holding her left eye mostly closed, and there's a big tear streak running down her cheek.

I study her hard, looking for distinctive characteristics. Do I know this doe?

Here is where my Canon 7D with 70-300 mm telephoto is my best ally, snatching images of the animals I seek to know.  There's a powerful team working for the Science Chimp, and my camera's the star quarterback. Along with it goes my Mac, with its incredible search function. But neither of these players would be working so effectively for me if I didn't blog.  Here's why: When I'm blogging, I name all my photos and toss them into a file for that month's blog. And the moment I name a photo, I make it retrievable. And when I can retrieve a photo, I can access a goldmine of images that help me piece together these animals' stories.

I have a feeling the mystery doe with the weeping eye is a colleague of Ellen's.  I think I've seen her before. So I pull up all the photos labeled "Ellen" and study them.

January 31, 2014. Exactly two years ago today. There she is! Ellen's laying her chin on Mystery Doe's back. Sweet? Nope. It's a dominance move. She's telling this gal to get out of her way, in a gentle way first. But you can see by the backward set of the layee's ears that she knows a bap is coming next. And you can see by the divot of hair taken out of Ellen's flank that she's been scrappin'.

Here's what I see on this doe that I'm seeing in Ms. Bad Eye. Overall, she's very warm in coloration. The rings around her eye and muzzle are not white, but bright warm burnt sienna-buff. More than that, she's got a neat little black mark on her mandible that looks a bit like a shark's tooth coming out of her mouth. Contrast that with Ellen's much larger black mandibular mark.

I keep searching. Here she is on February 15, 2016, a little less than a year ago. Ellen's approaching her. Look at the overall warm brown suffusing her coloration. Ellen's already lost the sight in her right eye; you can see it's gone pink.

I have a little series from this interaction. Ellen is so much smaller than this gal, but she pushes the envelope. The buff doe turns on her and gives her a good bappin' with sharp hooves. 

February 15, 2016. Hey. Do you see what I see? If you click on this photo, you'll see a trail of tears coming out of the buff doe's left eye. My goodness. Almost a year ago, and she was already having issues with that eye. The things you see when you really look.

Fast forward to January 7, 2017. Same animal. Same trail of tears.

Her eye is still weeping, but she's not holding it closed as much as she was on December 14. Good.
Oddly, it looks quite a bit smaller than her right eye, sunken perhaps. I can't tell if this is a natural asymmetry or if it's related to her condition. If she's lost the sight in it, it could indeed have shrunken.

Now, having identified her, it's time to name her. I choose Buffy, to remind me of her coloration. Now that I've noticed these things about her, she sticks out like a sore thumb. I see the warm rufous tone; I check for the shark tooth, and the weepy left eye clinches the ID.

Buffy's been here all along, but I was too busy watching Ellen to really take notice of her. Now, my beloved Ellen murdered and gone, I watch Buffy, Pinky, Flag and Boss Doe all the more closely.

I won't say Buffy's funny looking, but she is a low-slung animal, large-bodied and not very long of leg. I doubt she's young, but I've no way to know how old she is. I haven't known her as long as I knew Ellen, whom I met in 2009. In this photo, it's January 11, 2017, and she's keeping her eye open pretty much all the time. 

A close shot from that same day reveals the trail of tears to be less extensive. The skin around the eye has gone from pink back to a normal gray, and that's a good sign, too. I am glad to see this and hope she's healing. I'm pretty sure she has sight in the eye; she doesn't whip her head around to check the surroundings the way Ellen did when she lost sight in one eye.

I like this photo of Ellen challenging the much larger Buffy from Feb. 21, 2016.

It brings me comfort to watch a doe who knew Ellen, to feel a continuity through the loss.

Even though they clearly weren't the best of friends. I remember taking this photo a year ago, before I'd given Buffy any special thought, and speculating that an interaction like this may be how Ellen lost the sight in her right eye. She can't even see Buffy's strike coming at this point. The damage has already been done.

I don't mean to implicate Buffy for striking Ellen blind. The thought that her eye might have been injured in a fight is just one possibility I considered. 

This is one of my favorite shots of Ellen (right), telling Buffy to f-off. Buffy's all hmmmpf!  Wee scrappy Ellen aways gave as good as she got. Feb. 21, 2016

I went for a walk in the snow a couple of nights ago, as the light ebbed from the sky. I had meant to go out well before dark, but a phone conversation kept me inside. Still I grabbed my big rig and headed out, hoping to photograph deer in the falling snow. 

I spotted two fawns who belong to a family with big black brisket markings. I've been trying to get a handle on them for a few weeks now, but they don't come into the yard, so I can't get close shots from my big climate-controlled blind. This little creature looked like an Ewok in the snow. It was so dark I knew my shots would probably be trash, but I wanted to take photos of deer in the snow, so I did.

And then magic happened. That fawn turned and flounced away from me, and I shot, hoping I'd get something interesting. And oh my, I did. Please click on this to embiggen it, and appreciate the rhythm of it, the saucy wag of the fawn's flag, the sweeping curves of the snow-lined branches. Amazing. I was at ISO 1250, F 5.6, and this was a complete happy accident, a coming together of bad light, a moving subject, and the fairy dust of serendipity.

The fawn dove off the bank and into the pines. 

 Soon it was totally dark, but I kept walking out the haymeadow toward the woods. I could find my way by the light bouncing back up off the snow, by the contrast with the black trees. As I walked, I frightened several deer, who had thought they had the woods to themselves. And they'd crash off through the trees, probably little better able to see and avoid sharp sticks than I would be in those conditions. And I wonder how any deer makes it to old age, as Ellen did, without running a twig through an eye. 

I stick to the wide trails at night. Deer don't have that luxury when an unknown mammal startles them. Off they crash and bound, and I fear for their eyes. I felt bad about that. I wondered if I should be in the woods at all at night. Maybe I was putting them at risk. We need to think these thoughts, to wonder whether we belong in their world, such a disruptive element as we are. But it was so lovely to walk slowly in silence, with the cold misty snowflakes hitting my face, knowing that nobody else in their right mind would be out and heading deeper into the woods, well after dark on a Sunday night. 

I stopped, thinking, "It's about time for coywolves." And I faced to the north, where I often hear them. As if on command, they started to bark, yip and howl, and I grinned at such a joyous breaking of the silence I'd come looking for.

It's things like this that put me back into my right mind. 


Good to see Ellen again, even thru my tears.

Oh thank you for such a wonderful post.
Amazing insight and flexibility with words.
I sat here rapt, forgetting for the time my mundane problems with a garage door chain that broke and is laying on top of my car. A break from modern day problems.
Thank YOU Julie!

Emotions all over the place. The evening shots ... wow! First one wispy, second fabulous texture like a special type of paper. Mood-filled all the way around. Kim in PA

I'm constantly amazed by the details you pick up from your comparative photography, such as with the deer. And the photo of the "flouncing" fawn certainly is amazing. Thank you for the beauty of your words, thoughts, and photos.

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