As I rounded a curve on a walk at Lake Red Rock, I saw people gathered on the trail. They were looking into the woods along the trail and pointing. Motioning for me to be quiet, the nearest walker whispered, “Look! A doe and a fawn!”

Yes, a doe with soft brown eyes was nibbling grass and nudging her baby to do the same. The spotted fawn frolicked and bumped into mom affectionately. The others on the trail watched in awe.

I, however, had one thought. These were deer. I whispered the first thing that came to my mind. “Deer ate my garden and I don’t like looking at a single one.”

My antagonism and aggression surprised me. I had actually gritted my teeth and clenched my fists. I used to be that person grabbing binoculars to see the deer on the crest of the hill beyond our prairie. In the park, I had begged Lee to slow down so I could watch deer grazing. I used to stop on the bike trail to gaze at watchful deer.

All that changed when the deer invaded my space and destroyed the fruits of my labor. New curly kale, robust one afternoon and gone by dawn. Then a healthy stand of beets, their green and maroon leaves lovely with promise, as if they had never been. “Oh, well,“ I said, “we do live out in the country.” But when a whole family came in for the buffet while we were on a long awaited vacation and left only uprooted plants and stems, I had had enough. I could not erase the memory of those stripped green beans, massacred tomatoes, and decimated peas.

As I walked on, I thought about how I had reacted that day. This morning’s doe and her fawn had been nowhere near my garden. They were simply nibbling greens and enjoying a pleasant summer day. They were lovely, and the relationship between mother and child was touching.

Were the deer in my garden any different? Had the deer in my garden been doing simply what deer do? Maybe they were curious and hungry. And we were gone for days. Did I appreciate creatures of earth only from a distance or only when my possessions and work weren’t affected?

As I walked, I wondered if I had the same view of other creatures, including people. From a distance and in conversation, I could be open and appreciative. Show me children in the National Geographic or missionary videos and my heart warms. Let me watch a movie set in another country and I am awed and touched. I enjoy books set in other countries and pat myself on the back for learning about other cultures.

However, invade my home and affect my work and I bristle. I like to talk about my openness to people of all cultures, but when on the phone with a computer technician I can’t understand, I’m impatient and critical. Years ago I could not be described as tolerant when I asked the pediatrician to repeat all instructions because English was not his first language. When I substitute and the Spanish immersion teachers chat in Spanish, I feel a little left out and a little annoyed.

Let people different than me show up at my door or in my neighborhood, and make me work harder to navigate my own world, and I wonder how open my views really are.

Nearing my car, I thought back to the deer on the path and the diners in my garden. I don’t really need my garden produce in order to eat well, and I replanted with success. The deer leave us alone most of the time. They do have graceful limbs and lovely brown eyes; the fawns are playful and awkward in a delightful way.

Most of all, they are God’s creatures worthy of attention and care, and like me, were enjoying a summer morning at Lake Red Rock.

Helen Luhrs

An Iowa woman to the core, Helen Luhrs is a recently retired high school teacher who lives in the country near Knoxville, Iowa. Helen and Lee have four married daughters, six grandchildren, a graceful prairie, and a square foot garden.

5 Comments

  • Audra Faber says:

    Thanks for sharing this lesson from the natural world with us. It challenges me to be as alert as a mother doe to my own bias and prejudice, and as innocent as a fawn.

  • William Harris says:

    For those of us in Michigan, this essay has an ironic tone: the fifteenth of November is the opening of deer season.

  • I gaze at the deer each morning out my back window. Yes, we do have deer in North Jersey. They aren’t invading our turf. Humans invaded their home spaces.

  • Fred Mueller says:

    I love where your introspection takes you! I have come to think ill of the deer, beautiful though they be. Not only do they destroy the gardens and landscaping here in central Jersey, they have brought us the dreaded Lyme diease tick and are responsible for millions and millions of dollars in the destruction of cars hitting them. I actually have an elder who asks me never to read Psalm 42:1. The woman is a master gardener and is furious with the deer who undo her hours of work and demolish the beauty of her garden. But you lead us to a challenging place reflecting on how our opinions reflect the impact of things on us. I will try to be a little more patient today. Thank you.

  • Rowland Van Es says:

    Your honest reaction and thoughts help me better understand why some people want to build a wall to keep other people out… How open are any of us really, especially when it impacts our lives directly.

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