Listen to your heart
O.K., it’s time I confessed. I have a slight obsession going on. Well, two, actually: deer, and drawing or papery creativity in general. Both interests were kick-started last midsummer, when I took a wonderful online paper art course with artist Rachel Hazell. At around the same time, I began to have some memorable encounters with deer.
We see roe deer almost every day here, as they share the same woods as us. Last year, however, I had several meetings which struck me as unusual. The first was coming face to face with a mother doe suckling her fawn on the driveway..and then realising that there was another tiny spotted fawn curled motionless in the long grass right beside me. (I saw the family several times over the next few months.) In the woods, I kept coming across deer which, instead of running away, walked towards me; wary but interested and unafraid. One day a doe – presumably with a fawn hidden in the undergrowth – chased my dog and started kicking and butting her. I raced to the rescue, and had the extraordinary experience of standing within touching distance of the wild deer, giving her a stern lecture about the natural pecking order while my spaniel quivered in my arms and the deer stared at me from her dark, liquid eyes as if she could see into my soul, and I yearned to communicate properly with her, to touch her with my heart rather than merely my outstretched fingertips…
That got me thinking. All such encounters can be explained in prosaic terms as normal animal behaviour; but I felt there was something more going on. It felt as if the universe, or however you like to put it, was trying to tell me something, and the hints were getting increasingly blunt, moving from the attack on my dog to culminating, in September, with my getting bitten by a stag. (He was a semi-tame red deer in a farm park, and did it by mistake as I was feeding him, but still…) So I began to pay attention, and to research what various cultures and traditions have to say about deer and their spiritual significance. The synergies between, for example, what Native American Shamanic tradition has to say about deer and what was going on in my life were extraordinary. All this time I continued to be followed by deer in the woods, until I learned to recognise particular families and felt almost that they were old friends.
We ended my ‘year of the deer’, as I came to think of it, with a visit to the herd of red deer at Highland Safaris in north Perthshire. With a kilted ranger supervising, we hand-fed the stags and hinds. It was the perfect culmination of my close encounters with deer: a royal stag* dipping his soft muzzle into my palm, his eyes on mine, while his huge antlers seemed to curve protectively around my head.
(*A Scottish stag is termed ‘royal’ when he has twelve or more tines on his antlers.)
Given that I have also been experimenting with book art and paper craft ever since my art course in June, it was inevitable that deer and stags should start to appear in my art work. Having written about them, pondered their meaning and felt their presence, my first attempt to actually paint a stag turned into a sort of collage, as I felt that I needed to add feathers and ferns and other natural elements from the woods to my watercolour.
I then turned my hand to a ‘proper’ collage, i.e. composed almost entirely of printed papers rather than my own painting.
This one kept me happily away from household chores last week! I was inspired by the realisation – reached partly thanks to the deer and partly through further, wider readings, including the seminal Women Who Run With The Wolves by Camilla Pinkola Estés – that intuition and creativity are essential to life.
As a recovering perfectionist (!) I’ve always felt apologetic about my need to create. My artwork is amateur and is just for me; I don’t make a living out of it, so how can I justify this puny little hobby?
At long last I am coming to realise that I don’t need to justify my creativity. It is what it is. It may not make my family’s fortune, but it is an essential part of me, and I have been desiccated by the attempt to shove it under the carpet.
And so this is where I have got to so far, with my recent twin obsessions of deer and the need to create. My message to myself – and to you this Valentine’s Day – is ‘Listen to your heart’. And whatever paths through the woods it takes you on, may it lead you to happiness.
You might enjoy The calligraphy of hares and ‘they say that life’s the thing…but I prefer books’.