Sunday, February 7, 2010

animals in winter

During the winter as dusk approaches, the local deer herd tip-toe over the snow-covered alfalfa fields and step with light feet into our isolated woods. They look cautiously around--sniffing and listening for predators--as they make their way to our house where lies their treasure: a trough full of shelled field corn.

That corn my husband or I put out every day--no matter the howling wind or depth of snow. We know that the deer herd depends on us for that food, and, from our point of view, these animals are no different than our own horses, pot-bellied pigs, cats, and fish that are our obligation to feed. We feel they are our responsibility simply because we share ground and locale with them and because we are able to help these animals whose reason-for-being, every minute of every day of the winter, is to survive.

When the weather people predict a nor'easter, we begin to prepare: not only for the safety and well-being of our own animals, but also for the wildlife that find it extra tough finding food, water, and shelter during the harsh winter months. Not only do we put out large salt blocks for the deer and fill an old metal pig trough with corn, but we also load the homemade squirrel-feeder with peanuts, and put out my homemade suet and commercial birdseed at the bird feeders. Only then can we ourselves hunker down before the stove and enjoy the falling snow--comfortable knowing that our pets' and the wildlife's bellies are full. We've done our part.

So, as usual, the deer cautiously approached the feeder last night, and I was able to capture them feeding with my iPhone. Since we've been feeding them during the winter for the past number of years, they are not quite as wary as they had first been, yet they still are alert for any signs of danger--after all, their delectable corn sits only twenty feet from a human habitation, and deer consider humans predators.

Through all these years the deer have come to regard our peering out the window watching their feast as part of the corn deal. In order to eat, they will allow us to watch--if we are still and quiet. They will spook if we move too fast, but if we crawl slowly over the floor, creeping up to the windows of the garden room for a closer look, they tolerate our intrusion. Yes, indeed--so that we don't frighten the deer from the trough--we do get down on all fours and creep to the window. Then, we poke our heads over the sills and marvel at these creatures who have slowly come to trust us.

Pennsylvania's winters can be so harsh on her inhabitants--the animals and people--but moments like these remind me that humans and animals are not so remote in our struggle to endure and prosper--no matter the time of year. And in the struggle arises a communal kind of acceptance and trust between man and beast that can be rarely rivalled.

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