Saturday, July 7, 2012

A cry in the night

A couple of days ago, I woke up very early in the morning. It was about 3:15 am and the eastern sky was barely beginning to get light. I lay in bed, half-drowsing, when I heard a cry in the night. Once, twice. This is evidently what woke me up.

It was a strange cry, not quite bird-like yet almost resembling a peacock’s cry. A few minutes later I heard it again, twice, coming from our woods. Then silence.

After lying in bed for awhile, I got up and went about my morning routine. But later as the family got up and then as I spent time in the garden weeding, I kept hearing that strange cry.

Finally I came into the house, grabbed my camera and cell phone, and told Don I was going for a walk. “I heard that cry last night before I went to bed,” he said. He too was curious what it could be.

I walked into woods and then stood still for a few minutes, waiting for the cry so I could get my bearings. It came once, twice, then silence. I walked in that direction.

A few minutes later I stopped once more and waited for the cry… and then nearly jumped out of my skin, since it came about five feet away from me from a copse of bushes.

I started pushing into the bushes and heard an invisible crash as a deer fled the scene. Hidden in the copse was a tiny newborn fawn. Its eyes were glazed, its head stretched out on the ground. As I watched, it gave a loud, wailing cry once, twice, ending with a sad whimper. I saw no obvious injury, but it was apparent this little baby was very very sick.

Up to this point I never even knew a fawn could cry, much less with this kind of volume. It was even more amazing that it could cry so loudly and for so long considering how weak it was.

The baby was dry, with lick marks on its fur. My guess is it was born the evening before, licked dry by its mother, but not able to stand to get the life-sustaining nourishment it needed.

I didn’t touch the fawn, of course. A human scent on a fawn virtually guarantees its mother will abandon it. Clearly it was unable to stand and nurse. The doe had been lingering helplessly nearby, watching over her dying baby, unable to do anything but lick it and stand vigilant.

I called Don on the cell phone and explained the situation. “Should we shoot it?” I asked.

Don thought for a moment. “No,” he said at last, “let’s just leave it alone and let nature take its course. We’ll check it in the evening and perhaps do it then.” I’m perfectly aware Don had no desire to kill such a tiny helpless thing, though being an honorable man he would do what was necessary. But we also didn’t want to cause unutterable distress to the poor doe, who would see her baby shot right before her eyes.

So I left the copse and gave the doe the dignity to once more stand guard over her fawn and mourn.

I checked the next morning. The fawn was dead and the doe was gone. Wild animals cannot bury their dead, but can they grieve? I would like to think they do.

Since it was a single fawn, I’m guessing it was this doe’s first. Usually deer have singlets with their first pregnancy, and twins with every pregnancy thereafter. The doe will have to wait until next summer to raise her babies. I hope she succeeds next time.

Nature isn’t always pretty.


  1. Bought a jersey from a guy who was raising his third fawn on a nurse cow. It would nurse until old enough to jump the fence and be on it's own. They will thrive on raw dairy milk.Funny thing was he also had three calves on the same cow. It was pretty sweet. The mother deer had died so they raised the fawn.

  2. Baby mammals struggling for life are impossible for me to resist. Patrice, you are a hard core homesteading woman. I personally would not have been able to do what you did. No criticism inteaded.

    I am of a mind that God has us to do whatever personal good we can do while on this earth. If that would have happened to me I would have had a pet deer. I know, I know, I have heard all the arguements of not interfering with the natural process of things. But isn't the natural process of man interrupted when he is saved? Should we not extend that mercy to our surroundings from time to time?

    God gives every animal a fighting chance sometimes a human coming across them at their hour of need is their fighting chance. God gave us dominion over all animals so it is up to us to bring life where death wants to take hold. Most people I know would do what you did but I haven't got it in me. Perhaps this is my personal weakness, don't know. I will be glad when Jesus comes again and makes all things new and there will be no more curse.

    From a whimpy, softy, homesteading woman.

    1. Believe me, it crossed my mind to pick up the fawn but I didn't for two reasons. One, trying to raise a fawn in a house with two large aggressive dogs would have been a logistical nightmare. And two, this fawn was born with some sort of birth defect that likely would have made it impossible to save. Had the mother been killed and the fawn been healthy but orphaned, we could have picked it up and a number of neighbors would have been in a position to raise it.

      But to pick up a dying fawn and thereby distress its mother further -- and not be able to help the fawn in any case -- seemed pointless.

      - Patrice

    2. Shaolin and Patrice both raise good points. Still, I think Patrice made the right choice, hard as it was, given her circumstances (dogs, etc.).

      Steve Davis
      Anchorage, Alaska

  3. When we still lived in the mountains in Cali, I was out feeding the horses and heard a blood-curdling scream that kept on. My horses started getting worried and so was I. I grabbed my gun and told the children I would be back up the hill after checking it out. I went about 400 feet down the hill to a deep gully and in the bottom of the gully was a mule deer fawn. The doe was on the other side of the gully calling to it. As I watched, the fawn struggled to move but its back legs would not work. Then I saw that it was impaled through it's spine on a branch on a down tree. My guess is that they were running from a mountain lion (we had lots of them) when the mishap occurred. I knew it was going to die so I told the doe that I was sorry that it had happened and I put the fawn out of its misery. The doe watched and did not even run when I fired the gun, she waited as I climbed down to check on her fawn to make sure it was dead. After I climbed back up out of the gully, she turned and walked away as if she knew I had done a favor to her fawn. Two days later when I hiked back down there, the fawn was gone and there was no sign that it had ever been there. My guess is that a mountain lion drug it off to eat somewhere. I never went down that hill in the 14 years we lived there without a firearm and that was long before the fawn incident. Sometimes I think it is the right thing to be merciful and end the injured/sick wild animal's life just as we would for one of our livestock.

  4. You did the right thing in leaving it, but I would have sobbed over it all day. I was sad for two days over a pigeon with a broken leg that we came across after I nearly backed over the poor thing. Leg was broken before we got there and I suspect it flew into a car. Good thing we saw it before we backed out, as I probably would never have forgiven myself.

    I do believe we have to let Nature take her course, but it is never easy. She is a cruel mistress sometimes.

  5. Death sucks. I'm glad we have a Savior who overcame it.

  6. So very sad but yet simply part of life - for animals as well as humans. Thank you for sharing and reminding us all about the cycle of life.

  7. Aww poor thing! However that is
    Nature and as I cry my eyes out I am telling myself there was something wrong and nothing anyone could do. Now I can skin, filet and cut up any animal no problem but I can not kill with my hands, I found this out this year at WITO. The one chicken i was given to remove from this world looked at me with its eyes and said " bock bock" I had to hand it off, I couldn't do it! ThenI called my husband and cried.. My husband said he was
    Proud that I tried and he would do the worst part as long as I skinned and cut
    Up the food! Thats cool by me!

  8. I know Elaphants will morn their dead. They also have places where they will go when one is about to die they call them Elephant Graveyards family groups will use the same graveyard for generations. Also some times they will carry around a bone from a family member before returning it to the grave. And of course dogs greive more then any animal but everybody knows that.

  9. I got a tear in my eye reading this. So, here is a happy antidote to that story.

  10. I love rural life, and yet...there are times when it is not romantic, not's downright painful. It takes a certain strength to deal with these realities. We appreciate you sharing all aspects of this rural life with us.

  11. We rescued a litter of kittens where we discovered that one had serious health and intelligence issues. We loved him and gave him the best life possible but did not put him through the medical procedures that may have extended his life briefly. Instead we loved him with abandon and he was immensely happy for his short life. Nine months later i still miss him, but know that i did what was best for him. Death is inevitable what is importamt is how we spend our time, not how much time we have.

  12. Could you tell if something obvious was wrong with the back area? It looked so curved, I wonder if it was broken.
    --K in OK<><

  13. I hope, Patrice, that you make sure, if you ever DO decide to put a wild animal out of its misery that you thoroughly understand the wildlife regualtions of your state. In Alaska, we are not permitted (by regulation anyway) to put an injured wild animnal down. We HAVE to call wildlife troopers who will do it if required. Just don't want you to be fined or sent to jail for try to carry out a merciful act -nor any of the rest of you, either.

    1. you are making the assumption here that Patrice is going to run and tell the government everything she does to begin with.

  14. Animals do grieve for their young and often search for them. Animals that have lifelong mates grieve if the mate dies. Even if someone could have raised the fawn, it would never be safe unless with humans who knew it. Taking an animal from the wild causes all sorts of problems for the animal. You did the right thing.

  15. I could barely read this post it was so sad.

    The wails of a suffering animal are almost too much to bear.

    When I hear the coyotes yelling out in the field in the middle of the night, rallying everyone with their howls, I know what's happened.

    Last month, a band of 4 orphaned baby raccoons started showing up in the barnyard, no bigger than kittens. No mom in sight. One by one, until they are now just one, they've met their end on the road. Now, I really didn't want 4 adult raccoons running around here, but I sure didn't want THAT to happen.

    Just Me