Of all the creatures who share the woods with us here, it is the roe deer that have me enthralled. In a garden they are a menace: I have seen them steadily nibbling every bud off an azalea bush, and they can do terrible damage to tender young trees. In mature woodland, however, they are in their element. Surrounded by trees as we are, it’s therefore not surprising that I see at least one deer on an almost daily basis. Capturing them on camera, though, is a different matter. I have only the most basic point-and-click pocket camera, and there is little hope of getting close enough to these swift, shy animals to photograph them without a zoom lens.
But last week, for once, camera and deer coincided. We have seen a group of five roe deer hanging about near the house for the past week or so – apparently such groupings are common in the winter months, although five is the biggest group I’ve seen. (If you must have a gang of youths hanging about near your house, it’s pretty great if they are deer!) When I opened the back door to go outside on Thursday morning, there they were at the far end of the lawn, wandering off into the woods. We were heading that way too.
It was a beautiful frosty morning. I was standing under the trees, trying to capture something of the sunlight in the branches, when a large brown blur flashed past. One of the deer, startled out of hiding by my inquisitive dog. I stayed quite still. The dog came to sit quietly at my feet. The deer halted in her flight, and stood watching me from the top of a bank.
How beautiful they are, these wild deer, with their strong delicate legs and shadowy coats, their sooty noses and their huge ears twitching this way and that. My camera was already in my hand, so there was no fumbling or whirring to spook the doe. She stood undecided while I took photo after photo, none of them close enough to show her beauty but each closer than I’ve managed before. Framed by the trees, I thought that she looked almost mythical: a creature from a medieval tapestry.
I took a cautious step closer. Her ears twitched. One more step…and she was gone, an empty space where she had been.
Breathing out, I became aware that the woods were full of birdsong. And I would swear that the sun was shining that little bit more brightly as we continued our walk.