Spunky and Pokey: Fawns of the Year

Sometimes the latch sticks, so this evening it took me a moment to make sure the gate was properly closed. When I turned to go, the fawn was standing in the middle of the path. We were about four or five feet from each other, and it did not occur to either of us to give way.

Spunky, with spots, on one of his first visits to the garden

Is that you Spunky, all grown up, missing your spots? Here again? I asked in exasperation. How many times have I told you not to trespass. You belong in the woods. I’m telling you for the umpteenth time, this is not your property, and don’t even think about jumping that fence.

With wide-eyed innocence, Spunky listened to me attentively, as if this conversation were a perfectly natural part of his day. Which it was—for both of us.

To reinforce my lecture, I took a few steps toward him. Too close. Too close. He jumped playfully, darted away, just out of reach, stopped and looked back. Well, are you coming? You betcha I’m coming, you little rascal. I’m scoping out your route so I have some idea of what your winter plans for the garden are. He frisked off, stopping once more to see if I was still giving chase. I was.

Meanwhile, on these first visits, Mom waits patiently for the fawns to follow her

Even in play he was too fast for me. I lost sight of him until we were on neutral territory (neighbors’ property). He was waiting. Ready to go again? Nope, you win, I said.

When we met last I was hunkered down sorting through deer damage in a garden bed, straw hat on my head, idle chitterings of chickadees and titmice brushing my ears. A subtle shift in light gave me pause. Was I being watched?

I was. The fawn, Spunky? stood about twenty feet away, watching me. In spite of myself I had to smile. He was absolutely endearing, legs still slightly splayed, afternoon sunlight spilling over his spotted coat, head cocked, quizzical.

Well, she’s waiting. I guess I’ll have to go now

He was quite at home, and though I knew he was just a little tyke exploring his world, I couldn’t help giving him some sassy lines. Hi, watcha doin? Plantin’ anything I might like? Will you be outta my way soon?

I gave him the blah-blah lecture and started toward him. Uh oh, she’s coming. He jumped, turned, and loped away. Far enough for safety before he turned to look for me. Yes, yes, she’s in for the chase! He was off. Another stop to check. Yes, she’s still following. I’ll fly. Sure-footed, he bounded through garden and woods, weaving expertly along a path invisible to me but well known to him, neatly avoiding trippers and bumpers that would have felled me, and leaving me in the dust.

Did he meet up with Mom later and excitedly tell her of his great escape from the crazy lady with the straw hat who talks gibberish and has no idea of how to run through the woods?

Great picture of newborns on Suwanee River Ranch, Florida, Good website for information on deer life history

I can’t blame him for thinking he owns the place. Mom brought the twins, late babies born in July, to our garden when they were just beyond wobbly. To introduce them to us?

We watch the fawns from the window while the doe watches us watching them.

While we are all watching each other, she tears a tough, strappy leaf off an amaryllis bulb and propels it to her jaws, grinds and swallows in one fluid motion. She repeats the process with another leaf. So that’s what’s happening to the amaryllis.

Moments after birth the fawns are up and starting to nurse. Another great photo from Suwanee River Ranch, Florida

Young as the fawns are, we see differences. Spunky isn’t quite sure what he should be doing, but he is having a grand time doing it. Oh, right, I’m supposed to be tasting, that’s it. He pokes around with gusto, ecstatic with the newness of it all – and the variety — plum forgetting about Mom.

Pokey hangs back, half-hearted, not sure about this big-wide-world stuff. Neither of them feel comfortable venturing more than about 15 feet from Mom. Lamely, Pokey nudges a not-very-appetizing chewed-up hosta (wonder whose handiwork that was?) jumps back in alarm when a broken stem tickles his muzzle.

That’s it. Enough of prickly plants. No more browsing. He waits, aimless, ready to leave. Whether a signal flies between doe and fawn I don’t know, but suddenly Pokey is nursing.

Meanwhile, Spunky is rummaging about trying One from Column A and Two from Column B. When he finally looks up: O boy. Me too. Me too. Mom nurses both for a few moments until she walks off, leaving the two, motionless, before they collect themselves and follow her into the woods. Spunky gets shorted, but he doesn’t seem to care. 

Every few days the doe brings the fawns back. Is she giving them botany lessons? She tolerates my presence to within a few feet, but too close, she breaks. Is she giving the fawns life lessons?

This is just about how our buck looked, smaller rack though, coming out of the woods very determined. Photo from Suwanee River Ranch

Enter the stag looking every bit like Bambi’s father. Muscular. Healthy. Handsome. With a respectable rack. The fawns stare transfixed as he approaches. Who is this big guy? Too close. Too big. Too close. Curiosity flips to terror. Panicked, the fawns flee in opposite directions, become invisible in a moment.

The stag is not interested in fawns. The doe is not interested in the stag, we hope. She easily jumps the fence and lopes into the woods. The stag follows, but the doe will have the upper hand. Will she brush him off? Hard to say. He is good looking, and he does have that studly way about him. . . . We’ll find out next April.

Pretty soon we could have a deer traffic jam in the garden. There are two other does around that we haven’t seen recently. In early summer we watched as three does (or two does and one very mature fawn) patrolled the paths playing follow-the-leader, largest doe first, smallest bringing up the rear.

Tender new oak leaves with only small amounts of tannins are one favorite among many low-fiber shoots and leaves. Acorns, too, though not a steady diet, as overload on tannins can be poisonous. Suwanee River Ranch photo

Soon we began to suspect that the small deer lived in never-never land. Uh, oh, bumped into them again. I wonder why they stopped. Hmm, they’re looking around. I guess I’m supposed to look around, too. There’s a nice patch of grass. I’ll go graze. Patiently, the two older does break stride and wait until the little one is satisfied. In their eyes, stubby grass is not worth bothering with when there are hostas and hydrangeas to be had. Where are these deer today? Is one of them the mother of Spunky and Pokey?

We may have gotten a partial answer the other day. In the morning we planted a new camellia. By mid-afternoon three deer were examining it. This is new, isn’t it? Yeah, but not too tasty. Might not taste so bad in winter, though.

Two full-grown does run off as I approach. The other goes in an opposite direction. When I check I see that it is not a doe, but Spunky chewing on a sweet autumn clematis vine I’d pulled off azaleas earlier in the day. He looks like a little kid wallowing in a bowl of spaghetti; the salad of vines and leaves hangs out of his mouth in a delicious tangle. This is good stuff.

I’m about seven or eight paces away, arms akimbo. When he looks up and sees me, he makes a heroic effort to collect the tangle in his mouth, but it’s no good. Busted again. Heavenly indulgence sinks to sheepish disappointment. Aw shucks, he seems to say. This is so good, and there’s lots of it. I can see that wariness is creeping into his spirit. Reluctantly, oh so reluctantly, he drops the feast and moves on, measuring his paces.

Deer damage, probably the work of Spunky’s mom. Note leaves are stripped but blossoms remain in tact, commonly the case. Too much aluminum in the blooms? Not enough nourishment to make chewing worth while? Unpleasant texture? Nearby camellias, gardenias and Southern Indica azaleas are not touched

When he comes up against a great log, a grandfather oak in better times, he stops. He hesitates. I know he is longing for that stash of clematis. He knows I am watching. He makes the decision. He clears the downed tree easily and becomes invisible, deep in the woods.

Spunky is growing up and soon there will come a great divide between us. Some day “he” might even be nurturing fawns of her own. Today, though, it’s the loss of clematis that consumes him. When I go to retrieve the vine next day, it is naked, stripped of leaves. He has won again.

We can only speculate on what may have happened to Spunky’s twin, Pokey. Last time we saw the fawn it still had spots. Oh well, we say philosophically, It looks like this winter there may be one less mouth. . . .


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