Spending Time In Deer World

September 29, 2022 / A Local Favorite, Good to Know, Outdoor Adventures, Things to Do & See

Spending Time In Deer World | By Heather Atwood

Photo by Kendra Dott

Dogtown’s northern edges stitch to the Gloucester and Rockport neighborhoods that run along the shore:  Pigeon Cove, Folly Cove, Lanesville, Hodgkins Cove.  That stitching creates a zone where half-wild meets backyard.  


Every morning I begin my run along Granite street in Folly Cove, and turn into the woods, running across that half-wild/half-domestic zone, and then deeper into Dogtown.  What I have experienced in this tame/wild edge has been unnerving.  Doctor Doolittle fantasizes about talking to animals; in this hem running around northern Dogtown I talk to animals everyday. 


The golden eyes of a snowy owl stare down at me from an oak limb.  With due awe, I stare back, until, impatient, I finally say “hey, I’ve gotta get going,” and the owl follows, winging above my head from tree to tree as I run.  The unblinking exchange between us feels so powerful I believe I need to apologize to an owl.  


A German shepherd-sized gray coyote stares me down from the middle of the road to Johnson’s quarry.  With twenty-five feet between us, I look back, coyote eyes in mine, until I finally defer, saying, “ok, yeah, I’m sorry, I get it, I’ll just turn around,” and I reverse my course in defeat.  


This isn’t charming or exciting; it feels weird.  I honestly don’t want to talk to owls and coyotes, but these exchanges feel electric enough to be genuine, and so I talk.    


All this confounds our human-centric point of view; these experiences tell me over and over our story is not the only one.  


Recently, I came upon an eight-pointed buck looming above a dense blueberry patch just off my trail.  Statuesque, he held his antlers high, oval ears forward, his beautiful eyes – like those yellow shooter marbles – holding my gaze.   


Then, it occured to me he was standing very still because he actually believed I didn’t see him.  So, I tested him, calling softly across the fifteen feet between us, “Hey!  Were you in my back yard – under my apple tree –  yesterday?”


He chewed the cud in his mouth, his eyes unchanged.  


“Was that you?”  I tried again, sort of stomping at the same time, hoping to scare him a bit.  He chewed and stared.  


“Ok, well, I gotta go,” I shrugged, and I trotted on, watching a little over my shoulder to see him bending for more mouthfuls and then staggering casually back into the brush.  


Fisher Cats are supposed to be the most mysterious and furtive of all the creatures in these woods, and recently one scuttled his minky black body – as fast and serpentine as a bushy reptile –  across the path in front of me.  He started up a wooded slope, and then he stopped, and turned back to look at me, his eyes blacker than moonless night, the look in them mercenary.   


“Oh, come on,” I said, “Not you, too -”  


My house backs immediately up to the Dogtown woods.  Last spring, at dusk, I stepped into the yard with a leash to bring in my dog – a medium-sized light brown rescue.  The yard was shadowy, that time of evening when color disappears and all that’s left are light and dark shapes.  I saw the figure of my dog padding about ten feet away from me towards my neighbors yard, and I called her.  She stopped, and I stepped towards her, but just as I was about to hook the leash to her collar, I realized there was no collar.  


“You’re a coyote!!!” I yelled outloud and to it.


This small coyote, exactly my dog’s thirty-five pound size, only fled when my dog actually appeared.   


Still, here is the story that perhaps holds the most power for these mixed worlds:  


A few years ago, I was out running very early in the morning, around 5:00 a.m.  It was still dark, but light was coming, so it was that wonderful time when the world feels peaceful, and secretive but not scary, because you know the sun is rising fast and everyone will be awake in fifteen more minutes.  I had started running down Granite St., running down the center of the road because it was still too early for cars. But then, I suddenly felt a whoosh of air beside me.  No sound, just a whoosh, but then sound.  Muffled, light steps.  


A large fawn was running beside me.  And then suddenly another whoosh, and there was another fawn, running on my other side, right along with me.  And the three of us were running together down Granite Street.  On each side was a fawn, and we were running together.  I was in deer world.  


These two had recognized something of their own in me – probably  just a running body – and they like to run with things.  But it was clear, I was with them, not between them.  I was in deer world.   


I imagine you are thinking, “WOW!  That’s amazing!  You are so lucky!”


And I bet some of you – not all –  but some would probably also say WOW, That’s amazing, You are so lucky,” if I said that I had been abducted by aliens, because that is the only way I can describe how I felt about this incident.  I was freaked out.  It felt completely unnatural.  And – let’s be honest – I was selected.   


The whole thing feels so strange – that, like the alien abduction story, I sometimes I wonder if it really happened because so much of it feels like a dream – the darkness, the two fawns – not one – that’s almost a fairy tale.  


And it feels haunting, because, just like being abducted by aliens, I had spent time in another story, a story that is not a human one.  Running down a dark road between two auspicious fawns gave me the strong feeling that there are many other stories, that ours is not the only one.  In fact, maybe ours is not even the one that matters.     

But then, I also think – maybe that eight-pointed buck in the blueberry patch was just remembering me; maybe his attention was saying, “It’s you!  We ran together once!”

Heather Atwood is a producer at 1623 Studios, local television on the North Shore of Boston. She is also the managing editor for The Other Cape and author of “In Cod We Trust, the celebrated cuisine of coastal Massachusetts.” (Globe Pequot Press.) You can find her personal blog – “Shelves” – at heathershelves.com

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