Bambi, Bambi

Except for a section of wrought-iron screen fencing along the upper street side—totally useless for keeping anything in or out—my garden is open to all. The wild critters were here long before we came along—preemptive rights, I think is the legal term—and they depend on the pond across the road below our property during the hot summer months in the Sierra Nevada foothills. It seemed only neighborly to preserve an unobstructed path for them to access the water.

It didn’t take long, though, for the deer to discover my garden affords a much closer water source, a straight-sided, two-level ornamental waterfall and pool that wrap partway around the back terrace. They also soon discovered I have plenty of fresh, green, growing things to nibble on. Mostly, they’re polite and limit their munching to the plants they like best, the six-foot-tall “carpet roses” and a few of the smaller hydrangeas in the shade garden. The deer don’t do any lasting damage. And they don’t touch my favorite azaleas and rhododendrons, or the daffodils in the early spring. Sometimes they take midday naps in the shade beneath the low-hanging branches of half a dozen redwoods below our meadow, but, otherwise, they generally meander through, have a little snack, then move on to the neighbors’ properties and the larger forested parcels farther up the mountain. I like knowing they’re around.

I first discovered how hospitable the deer find my garden one day years ago while puttering around outside—just pickin’ and pokin’, I call it. I noticed two rather strange leaves sticking up amid the groundcover alongside one of the paths. Furry, brownish points among the mottled green leaves. I stopped in my tracks. The strange leaves twitched, as though ruffled by a welcome breeze. Only there wasn’t any breeze. The small fawn lifted its head just enough to see whether I represented a threat, then nestled back down, folding its ears out of sight against its skull.

I remembered Harriett telling me one time that a mule deer will often hide her young fawn in the thickest foliage she can find, press her muzzle down on top of its head to instruct it stay put, wander off to graze a while on her own, and finally return for the baby a couple of hours later.

“But why doesn’t the fawn just scramble after her?” I asked.

“Right from the moment of their birth, fawns are programmed to obey instantly, without question. It’s a matter of survival. If the does don’t eat, there won’t be milk for the babies. Actually, they’re much better behaved than our own youngsters,” Harriett replied with a wry grin, remembering her own four rambunctious sons.

So this baby hadn’t been abandoned at all, merely dropped off at daycare. I slowly backed away and left it alone, and an hour later it was gone.

One of the highlights of spring in my garden is catching a glimpse of a brand new fawn wobbling along on spindly legs behind its mama as she makes her daily rounds. I usually see several each year. The spring of 2016 was no exception. One morning in early May, through the French door in the library, I spotted a doe and her new baby down in the Cedar Circle. I slipped outside for a better look. As I drew closer, Mama didn’t panic but moved slowly down the rock steps into the meadow. Bambi tottered along behind. I followed as far as the top step and from there watched as the two disappeared into the shadows beneath the redwoods on the far side.

Already very close to one of my Martha Stewart-green hoses, I decided to give the azaleas some extra water as I’d sprinkled on a little fertilizer the day before. Still gazing absentmindedly at the spot where the deer mama and baby had ambled into the trees below, I reached down for the nozzle with my left hand and at the same time leaned over to turn on the spigot with my right. Suddenly I got the fright of my life! On top of the neatly coiled hose, only inches from my hand, was something strange, round, and dark. I shrieked and jumped back, certain it was a coiled baby rattler and I was a goner. But it didn’t strike. It didn’t move at all, just lay there, motionless, looking like a wet, partially deflated football with mottled white spots.

Gradually my heart stopped pounding and my breathing slowed to normal. This fawn was much smaller than the first, no more than ten minutes old, still wet from the doe’s tongue where she’d eaten away the amniotic sac. Bambi Two!

I knew enough to leave the newborn alone, that the doe would return for it, so I went back into the house and continued to watch through the window. Sure enough, twenty minutes later mama came back alone. She licked the tiny creature all over and tried to nuzzle it to its feet, but it was so weak it couldn’t hold its head up, let alone stand. Mama left again.

Over the next several hours, she returned three more times but still couldn’t get the baby to its feet. It shuddered every few seconds but still didn’t lift its head. It occurred to me that the fawn needed nourishment to gain strength, but if it couldn’t stand, it couldn’t access the doe’s teats. I watched and fretted. Another hour passed.

Certain now that mama had abandoned this pint-sized infant, I couldn’t just sit by and do nothing. In the kitchen, I pulled out my Pyrex one-cup measure and poured in an ounce of evaporated milk, an ounce of warm water, and a couple of drops of Karo syrup. I found an ear syringe in the bathroom, swished it in rubbing alcohol, and washed and dried it. From the ragbag in the laundry room, I grabbed an old towel and headed for the Cedar Circle.

At first I thought the baby was dead, it was so still. Then it quivered, and its tiny sides rose and fell a time or two. I sat down on the ground, carefully wrapped the towel around the fawn, pulled it onto my lap, and began gently massaging it all over. In a few minutes the baby’s eyelids fluttered. “It’s okay, it’s okay,” I murmured softly as it fastened its gaze on my face. I saw no fear, only trust. With my left hand, I lightly grasped Bambi Two under its chin and nudged the ear syringe between its square white teeth. Big teeth for such a tiny baby. At first the milk dribbled out the sides of its mouth onto the towel, but as I kept stroking its throat with my thumb, finally it swallowed once, then twice. Then several more times. I continued gently caressing the baby all over until it fell asleep, then left it there atop the coiled hose, wrapped in the towel, and went back inside to make a phone call.

When I returned to the Cedar Circle twenty minutes later, Bambi Two was gone, leaving behind the towel nest. I began to search, first the rest of the Cedar Circle and then the Shade Garden. Climbing three more rock steps toward the utility corner—home to our air-conditioning unit and woodpile—out of the corner of my eye I caught sight of the baby, collapsing on the ground even as its mama disappeared around the corner of the house. Again, I wrapped the baby in the dish towel, massaged it all over, and fed it another ounce of formula.

By now it was late afternoon, time to make dinner and tend to other evening chores. Convinced I’d done all I could, I wrapped the baby up one final time and went inside for the night, wondering if I’d ensured its survival—or poisoned it with my makeshift formula.

The next morning the towel was there, but not the fawn. Had a coyote gotten it, or the bobcat some neighbors had reported seeing?

The story of Bambi Two spread quickly up and down our street. Everyone kept watch. After ten anxious days, Suzanne from next door ran over at dusk to tell me they’d just seen a mama deer with two fawns, one much larger than the other, crossing their front lawn.

I was elated! Hubby and I celebrated with a bottle of champagne.

It Takes a Village

Several weeks after the birth of the Bambi twins, I was seated one sunny morning in the breakfast room, paying bills and tending to the mound of paperwork that routinely accumulates on my desk. You know, activities like addressing birthday cards, reading again the most recent submissions of writer friends from my critique group, inventorying and updating a list of cleaning supplies in anticipation of my next trip down to Costco. The phone rang. It was Steve, our next-door neighbor.

“Hey, Pat. Say, I’ve just been out on the driveway—gonna wash my car—and I heard something strange coming from your backyard. Like a baby crying or something. Did you guys get a new puppy, too?”

“I wish,” I replied, “but no, no new puppy or kitten. I didn’t hear anything when I was out earlier with my coffee, but I’ll go out and have a look.”

I crossed the kitchen and stepped out through the French door onto the back terrace to listen. I heard only the gurgle of water cascading into the lower pool of our water feature and the whirr of humming-bird wings as several Anas swooped around the nectar feeder, attacking one another and vying for dominance. Somewhere in the distance, a Stellar’s Jay squawked. Nothing unusual.

Then, out of the corner of my eye, off to my right I caught sight of a doe and fawn just disappearing quickly through the Cedar Circle and down into the Shade Garden. I headed in that direction, but by the time I got there, they had bounded down the rock steps and disappeared into the redwoods. I proceeded on around the house to the front, but still I heard nothing strange. Maybe Steve was mistaken. Maybe what he heard was coming from Jay and Bonnie’s, his neighbors on the other side. They had a new labradoodle pup.

I strolled down the street in the direction of Steve’s driveway, but he met me halfway. “I just heard it again,” he said urgently. “It’s definitely a distress call. Something’s wrong.”

By now Steve’s wife, Suzanne, had come outside, too, and the three of us hurried, single file, through the wrought-iron gate into our backyard to investigate further. As we rounded the garden shed, we all heard it, a piercing, high-pitched cry, definitely coming from below the back terrace. Fanning out in different directions, we listened intently. There it was again! We all heard it!

Suzanne was standing closest to the pool. Suddenly she screamed. “Here it is! Here it is! It can’t get out!”

In the shadowy corner of our pool, a small fawn floated limply, droplets of blood dribbling from beneath its chin and spreading over the water’s surface. In a flash, Steve reached down with both hands, grasped the dripping baby, lifted it gently out of the chilly water, and placed it on the flagstones. Its eyes were shut tight and it shook uncontrollably.

Racing back into the house for a towel, I wrapped the shivering baby, pulled it onto my lap, and began rubbing it all over to restore circulation, just as I’d done with the newborn fawn right after its birth only a few weeks before. Was this the same baby? Was this Bambi Two?

Soon its dark eyes fluttered open, but there was no fear, only relief. As I continued the massage, gradually the violent shaking subsided into a gentle heaving of its mottled, spotted sides. Now we could see how Bambi Two had struggled. I blotted the abrasions under its chin where the skin had been scraped raw on the brick coping of the pool.

As Suzanne ran home for her camera, Steve and I speculated about what might have happened. The mama must have come to drink from our pool, accompanied by her two mismatched fawns. Perhaps the larger fawn had been able to successfully drink also. But the littler one, Bambi Two, with its shorter legs, must have had a harder time and ultimately tumbled in, then couldn’t get out. Who could tell how long the baby had thrashed about in the water as its anguished mama stood helplessly by, unable to do a single thing, despite its beseeching cries, to save her drowning baby?

 

Suzanne returned and snapped this picture. Then I wrapped the fawn in the towel again and continued stroking its head and ears until it dozed off, finally safe but completely exhausted.

After sharing a cup of hot tea and catching up on other neighborhood news, Suzanne and Steve returned to their chores, and I to mine. Every so often, I went back out to check on the fawn and scratch its ears. Still, it exhibited no fear. Two hours later, Bambi Two was gone

Canada (Part 2)

The next morning we broke camp early, had a quick breakfast, and pulled onto the highway before eight. Daddy glanced up at the overcast sky but said nothing. He drove north until we came to the Oregon-Washington border and then headed northeast through Washington toward Idaho.

Around two in the afternoon, the wind began to blow, gently at first but then hard enough to send sand and debris swirling across the black two-lane pavement. With each mile, the sky grew darker until finally Daddy had to turn on the headlights. By now the wind was blowing so hard that our homemade camping trailer bounced and lurched, causing the back part of the car to sway from side to side.

Sheets of lightning lit up the sky, followed by volleys of rolling thunder that shook the car even more. Each time the lightning flashed, we could see panicked jackrabbits darting back and forth across the highway in front of us. Thump. Thump, thump. I couldn’t keep from counting: one, two, three, four…. I pulled my jacket over my head and covered my ears with both hands, trying to shut out the sound of the rabbits being squashed under our tires. But I could still feel it. Thump. Thump. Eight, nine, ten….

Our headlights blinked off and then back on. Then off again and back on. Rusty was so scared that he crawled down on the floor by our feet and lay there, shaking and whimpering. Eleanor and I huddled under our jackets.

Damn,” Daddy said. “This is gonna be one helluva storm”

Then it began to rain, just a few fat drops at first, but within minutes the rain came slashing down in sheets, blown nearly horizontal by the wind. The windshield wipers clicked furiously back and forth on their highest speed, but still Daddy could barely see the road. He hunched forward in his seat and slowed to a crawl, gripping the steering wheel tightly with both hands.

“I think we’d better stop in Spokane,” he said to Mommy.

She didn’t say a thing. The dashboard lights revealed the tension in her face: eyes wide and mouth pulled taut over her clenched teeth.

By the time we reached the outskirts of Spokane, visibility was near zero. At the first gas station, Daddy pulled in to fill the tank and ask where we might find something to eat and a room for the night.

“You jes’ made it, fella,” the attendant said as he came out of the office, his yellow rain slicker whipping about his legs. “I’m shuttin’ down and headin’ home. This storm ain’t fit for nobody to be out in.”

“How ’bout food? Anything still open? And we need a room too.”

The attendant held onto his hood with one hand and pointed with the other. “If you go on down thataway to the light and hang a left fer a couple a blocks, Betsy’s Café should be open. An’ if yer lookin’ to spend the night, The Horseshoe auto court a mile or so after that might still have somethin’.”

“Thanks,” Daddy said as he paid for the gas. “You’re a good man.”

Betsy’s was indeed still open, but we were its only customers. Betsy herself brought the menus. “I’m outa meatloaf and turkey,” she said, “but I can make you a hamburger.”

“How ’bout bacon and eggs?” Daddy asked.

“Yeah, I can do that, I reckon.”

After we ate, Daddy found The Horseshoe, pulled up alongside the office, and went in to ask about a double-double. The pink neon “Vacancy” sign in the window blinked off and on, its image reflecting back from our wet windshield and from the many puddles that pocked the crumbling pavement. Below the pink one, a smaller, hand-painted sign said, “No Pets Allowed.”

Daddy came out a moment later with a key and pulled the car down to the far end of the auto court. As soon as he unlocked the door to the room, Mommy scooped Rusty up from the floorboards, wrapped her coat around him, and whisked him inside. Daddy didn’t object.

Our room was drab and grubby. The grime of a thousand hands ringed each doorknob and light switch. Yellowed Venetian blinds at the window hung slightly whopper-jawed, covered in thick dust. Nothing happened when Daddy tried the switch of the cactus-shaped wooden lamp on the nightstand between the beds. Jaunty cowboys on wild-looking broncos bucked their way across stained, faded, threadbare bedspreads. Wrinkling her nose, Mommy used her thumb and forefinger to lift them off and drop them in a heap on the floor in the corner.

“It’s only one night,” Daddy said.

“While I feed Rusty, you girls hop in the shower as quickly as you can,” Mommy said, “because I need one, too.” We hurried and she hurried, but by the time Daddy’s turn came, the water was ice cold.

As soon as everything was quiet in the room, Rusty hopped up between Eleanor and me and worked his way forward until his head rested on my pillow. I wrapped my arms around him and burrowed my face in his fur.

All night long, the rain pounded a steady beat on the asphalt shingles of the roof.

Canada (Part 3)

Pend Oreille turned out to be a very pretty lake. However, the locals said the fishing was terrible after the big storm, so Daddy changed his mind and pushed on north into British Columbia, to a little village on the western shore of Kootenai Lake. When he stopped at the local municipal office to ask about a campground, the official said they didn’t have a campground, but we were welcome to pitch our tents in the picnic area of the town park.

Mommy wasn’t thrilled. “You must be kidding,” she said.

“We don’t have much choice. It’s getting late.”

Daddy found the park, and we began setting up camp. By the time the town official arrived with a load of firewood and newspapers, we were already attracting attention. People stopped to stare as Daddy hammered in the tent stakes and Eleanor and I inflated the air mattresses with the foot pump. Daddy just smiled and waved to the gathering crowd, so Eleanor and I smiled and waved too. I guess Mommy was embarrassed because she kept her eyes lowered as she began setting up her kitchen. Before she got very far, a heavyset woman wrapped in a knitted shawl approached her and offered to bring us a pot of hot sausage stew. The first woman was followed by a second, who offered coffee and fresh-baked bread. Mommy looked over at Daddy for a moment, then smiled graciously and said, “Why, that would be lovely.”

A young man stepped out of the crowd and, with the speed of an expert, made a small tent of crushed newspapers and kindling and lit the campfire. Several others pushed a dozen picnic tables into a big circle around it, all the while laughing and talking and telling their women to fetch this and that. Soon other women arrived with pots of soup, baskets of fresh fruit and bread, and two freshly baked cakes. They brought plates and knives and forks. Big jugs of hard cider appeared, and lemonade too. It turned into quite a party. Rusty scampered to and fro among the tables, begging for handouts, until he was so stuffed he could hardly walk. Afterwards, the men lit their pipes and told jokes and fishing stories while the women cleared away the plates and cut the cakes into generous portions. Only when the last of the firewood burned down to red coals did the people get up to leave, a few at a time. “See ya tomorrow, Yanks,” they said.

The next morning, a couple of the local men took Daddy out onto Kootenai Lake in their boat and showed him the best bait to use. He came back that afternoon with a whole string of beautiful trout and a big smile plastered across his face.

Meanwhile, Eleanor and I joined the kids playing on the swings and teeter-totter and monkey bars in the park playground. I wowed them all because I was the only girl with enough nerve to hang by my knees.

“Show-off,” Eleanor said, but then she ran and got our bag of books out of the car and read stories to everyone.

That second evening, the same crowd assembled for a community fish fry. The women brought potatoes and vegetables for roasting and more hard cider and fresh-baked bread.

When everyone had eaten their fill and the plates were cleared away, an older, whiskered gentleman took his fiddle from its case, tucked it under his chin, and started to play. The crowd clapped in time to the music. Several young women stepped forward and began dancing inside the ring formed by the picnic tables. They kept their arms clamped to their sides and their backs as straight and rigid as a post while their legs and feet moved so fast my eyes could hardly follow them.

“Tis an Irish jig,” one of the ladies told Mommy. “Have ya never seen one?”

Mommy shook her head as she smiled a big smile and kept on clapping.

One of the dancers called to Eleanor and me to join them, so we did. But the dance wasn’t easy. I kept getting my feet tangled up and fell several times on my bottom in the soft dirt. When I got right back up and tried again, the crowd roared and clapped even louder.

So it went, day after day. After four days, though, it was time to leave. Daddy had promised Mommy a stop at the Hudson Bay Company in Vancouver so she could buy one of their world-famous wool blankets with wide red and green stripes across the top. Besides, Daddy didn’t want to miss the height of the Chinook salmon season off the coast of Vancouver Island. We shook hands and exchanged hugs with all our new Canadian friends, packed up our gear, loaded Rusty into the car, and headed down the road while the townspeople waved and cheered ’til we disappeared from sight.

Daddy turned to Mommy: “Well, now, camping isn’t so bad, is it?”

Mommy just smiled.

Canada (Part 4)

After stopping a night or two at several smaller lakes, we headed for downtown Vancouver. Again, Mommy was embarrassed as Daddy pulled in to the loading zone right in front of the Hudson Bay Company. Passersby on the street kept their faces pointed forward but swiveled their eyes to stare, bemused, at our mud-spattered Plymouth and little brown trailer, its lumpy khaki tarp tied down with a rope. While ladies passing in and out of the store were dressed in suits, hats, white gloves, and high-heeled shoes, we looked like ragamuffins, Mommy said, like the poor refugees from Oklahoma who made their way across the plains to California during the Dust Bowl of the 1920s. But this was her only chance. She swallowed her pride and went inside and bought that special wool blanket that would warm their bed for thirty-five years. The rest of us waited quietly in the loading zone, all except Rusty, who wagged his tail and barked at the window whenever anyone came close.

From the Hudson Bay Company, Daddy drove straight to the waterfront and joined a long line of vehicles waiting for the one o’clock ferry to Nanaimo. After he paid our fare at the ticket booth, we walked over and ordered fish and chips at a little open-air restaurant overlooking the water.

“Isn’t this just beautiful?” Daddy said, thumping his chest as though he personally controlled the weather. It was beautiful, sunny and clear, puffy white clouds scudding along in the breeze while brightly colored boats crisscrossed back and forth across the channel, sails billowing. Daddy pulled the guidebook out of his pocket and read aloud how, all summer long, millions of migrating salmon used the Discovery Passage separating mainland British Columbia from Vancouver Island.  Accompanying the article was a picture of a Chinook salmon that weighed fifty pounds, almost as big as me.

“Are you gonna catch one like that?” I asked Daddy.

“I sure hope so.”

The ferry came chugging toward us—several times the size of our house on Spaulding Avenue—sounding a shrill whistle as it eased into its berth, bumping gently against the black tires fastened there to cushion the impact. One by one, the cars ahead of us crept aboard and disappeared into the bowels of the ferry. When our turn came, we inched slowly forward and drove below. Daddy locked the car, and we climbed the steps to the observation level, where we could stand along the rail and watch the scenery during the forty-five-minute trip to Vancouver Island. It truly was beautiful.

From Nanaimo, Daddy drove north to a campground at the mouth of Campbell River, a place the guidebook dubbed “The Salmon Capital of the World,” where fishermen came from all over to rent boats and try their luck in the channel.

Seasoned campers by now, it didn’t take us long to unload the trailer and get set up. As Mommy poked around in the groceries, looking for inspiration, she looked over at Daddy and said with a wry smile, “I liked it better at Kootenai. Much better cooks.” He just grinned.

Eleanor and I wasted no time in checking out the campground. We took Rusty, too. If you had a dog on a leash, kids would come right up to you and make friends. We found two girls jumping rope, but because there were only two of them, they’d tied one end of the tope to the bumper of their car so one could turn the rope while the other one jumped. The bumper wasn’t high enough, though, and the rope kept hitting the jumper in the head.

As soon as they saw us, they came running over to pet Rusty, and pretty soon we had two new friends, eight-year-old twin sisters whose family had come all the way from Missouri for the salmon fishing at Campbell River. The next day, the four of us explored every nook and cranny of the campground, but we only saw a couple of teenage boys. Ugh! Besides jumping rope, we played hide and seek and went swimming at the beach that was part of the campground. But we spent the most time at the twins’ campsite because their mother had brought at least a ton of cookies and candy from Missouri.

All week long, Daddy’s routine didn’t vary. He got up at dawn, made himself a thermos of coffee, launched his rental boat, and joined dozens of other eager fishermen in what looked like a circus parade. They’d putt-putt-putt slowly out into the channel, form a line three boats across, and patiently troll around in a huge, ragged circle. If one of them hooked a fish, he’d yell, and the rest would reel in their lines and watch and cheer as the lucky fisherman fought his salmon. When there wasn’t any action, the men drank their coffee and talked back and forth, telling tall tales of the monster salmon they’d caught in those very waters a month ago—or a year ago—or never. About nine, they’d all return to shore. The successful would clean and fillet their fish and pack them in ice. Around four in the afternoon, the men would launch their boats again, head out into the channel, and troll ’round and ’round until after sunset.

Daddy caught several salmon, but nothing approaching fifty pounds, or even thirty. Mommy didn’t fry the salmon the way she did trout. Instead, she topped the fat fillets with lemon slices, sprinkled them with salt and pepper and paprika, then wrapped them in aluminum foil and let them cook on the grate of the barbecue pit at our campsite. I’d never tasted salmon before and had to admit it was pretty good. Not as good as trout, though.

Daddy took one day off from his fishing schedule to drive us to Victoria, where we had high tea at the Empress Hotel, an experience the guidebook said we shouldn’t miss. He had to do some fast talking to get us in, though, because we weren’t “properly dressed.” I think Daddy slipped the clerk at the door some money or something because he finally allowed us in. “But only because it’s a weekday,” the man assured us as he stuffed several one-dollar bills into his pants pocket.

Soon it was time to pack up and head south. Before we left Campbell River, Daddy spread his map out on the table. “Hey, Lil,” he said, “how’d you like to see Crater Lake on the way home? It’s a little out of our way, but I think we could make it.”

There wasn’t much point in answering. Once Daddy got a bee in his bonnet about seeing something new, no one could change his mind. Mommy just shrugged her shoulders. “Sure,” she said. “Why not?”

Daddy began packing so we could get an early start.

The next day was a very long one, more than 400 miles. We camped in Roseburg and again got up very early for the drive to Crater Lake. What I remember most is feeling carsick on the way because of the sharp curves in the road. It was worth it, though, to see the lake, a gorgeous sapphire-blue circle with one island in the middle—well, not exactly in the middle. The guidebook said the lake was the crater of a huge volcano and Wizard Island was a volcano within a volcano. The guidebook also said visitors could take a boat out to hike on the island or hike all day around the entire rim of the lake. We could tell Daddy was disappointed.

“We’ll just have to come back,” he said. “Maybe I can get a couple of days off before school starts.”

Instead, he bought a big bag of peanuts so we could feed the chipmunks. They were so tame they’d come right up and eat out of our hands. Rusty had to stay in the car because he would have gone wild chasing the chipmunks, as much fun as cars and cats and chickens.

The trip home was the longest day of driving I can ever remember. In the afternoon and again in the evening, Eleanor and I took turns sleeping in the backseat while Mommy held Rusty on her lap in the front. Mommy even drove partway so Daddy could rest, but when Mommy drove, Rusty had to stay in back with us. He never, ever sat on Daddy’s lap.

It was past midnight when we finally pulled up in front of 2104 Spaulding Avenue. Not a single neighbor was awake to welcome us home.