Three Poems for Deer

Last spring, on a bank just up the creek,
I found the smoothed and fur-dusted bed
of a deer.
Nested beneath low boughs,
brush browsed back, the smell was still fresh.
But so close, I thought,
within sight of the cabin.

It had been a harsh season.
Many deer were wintering
down close to the valley bottoms and farms.
Dawns, you would see them
browsing a far corner of pasture,
kneading up the snow.

Here, far enough in from the dogs,
there was cover, fresh water...
And the nights I sat at my desk unknowing,
and the lamplight
found its way through the frost-lit trees,
what, if anything, did it mean to her
--nipping at her winter coat
to make a bed for the fawns,
sharing our water for a time.

Traversing into Boston Basin from Eldorado Peak,
nearly a mile above the North Fork of the Cascade,
a day so hot and thick with flies
we cursed it.
At a deep, steep-sided gorge--
Bob saw him first--a great old buck
asleep, we thought, by the creek side.
Once across though, and from sixty feet above,
we could see he was bloated, unable to move,
and had obviously come here
--where a slight wind kept down the flies
and there was water enough--
to die.

On the hottest day of the year
he had climbed past the last subalpine trees,
this remote basin, to be left alone with death.
Seeing this, and that our presence
caused him distress, I left
feeling as though I had committed an unforgivable act.

A prayer for his spirit, and silence
as we worked down through the rocks and thick
summer meadows, stream-ribboned cliffs
and the first thin reaches of forest--
the cold rending beauty of a land
empty of sentiment or promise.

Three mornings now, fresh tracks
in the snow where the deer's trail
crosses mine.
Just a little earlier than me, I can tell.
And like me they stop
and look at those other tracks--
their loitering prints almost show
the large ears leaning forward as they sniff.

A browsed cedar shrub, freshly nipped salal.
Where do they go and why such regular hours?
I'm sure we wonder about each other
every morning, here where the trails cross,
mingle, and slip singularly past
into the same world.


From In Blue Mountain Dusk: Poems by Tim McNulty, © 1992, Pleasure Boat Studio, New York