Friday, December 12, 2008

Oh Deer! A very strange thing happened to me a couple of Sundays ago. Gabrielle was out and I was up on our barn roof, laying slates (renovating the barn into a new gite) when I heard a noise from the sheep paddock below. There, we have four (castrated) male lambs born this year and an elderly ewe—who can’t have any more lambs and so can’t run with the ram. It’s not unusual for the boys to be boys—despite being disconnected from their testicles—and charge each other, clashing heads with something between a “clack” and a “crump". I assumed that was what it was but stopped slating and turned to look anyhow.

What I saw wasn’t two little boy lambs in a testosterone-style stand-off but all five sheep standing together, as sheep are want to do, staring at something else … and then I saw it, a flash of russet brown running headlong into the sheep netting (that’s the metre-high galvanised wire mesh fencing that encircles the field). It got up and raced off again, before piling in once more to this barrier, either invisible or incomprehensible to it. It was a chevreuil (roe deer - like the one in the photo above) that had obviously leapt the fence to get in but couldn’t now work out that it had to do the same to exit and was clearly becoming more distressed and disoriented by the second. I got off the roof as quick as I could and ran into the field.

The deer continued in its unsuccessful and painful attempts and I realised I had to do something. I opened the gate to the field and calmly walked behind the deer, arms outstretched, in the hope that it would tend to go away from me, towards the open gate. This didn’t work and I realised that the deer really would hurt itself soon if I didn’t do something a little more proactive. I tried shepherding it into a corner and, after a particularly heavy impact into the fence, which left it stunned, I threw myself headlong upon it, arms wide and managed to grab it, encircling its legs with my arms and holding it tight to me.

Have you ever been in a situation where you do something, because you thought it was the right thing to do, but now you’re left holding the baby, so to speak, and you haven’t a clue what to do? It was one of those moments, with bells on. Wildlife is something you observe at a distance, perhaps with the aid of binoculars. I had a live roe deer in my arms, about the size of a large Labrador dog, panting heavily, heart racing and a bit bloody around the mouth. I do remember thinking how beautifully soft the coat was. I looked up at the countryside beyond the sheep paddock and saw a couple of hunters, guns over their arms, with their dogs some way in the distance but clearly looking at me. Even if they weren’t specifically hunting for deer, it would have been them that spooked the deer into jumping into our field. So I made my way out of the sheep paddock in the opposite direction, having to squeeze past my scaffolding, deer in arms, all the time wondering what to do. When I got to the end of the lane, I turned right, walking through a neighbour’s garden until I could release it into the valley below. It bounded energetically out of view, so I assume it wasn't that badly hurt.

Sorry I didn’t get any photos of what was an amazing experience but I had my hands rather full! Next blog: what have Charles Dickens, Capitalism and Permaculture got to do with each other?