Last night after a good meal made by Kevin, warm family chats in front of the fire and Mom's Christmas lights glowing all around us, the hum of the road faded from my back and palms and Duncan and I slipped into the back room to sleep. Mom had loaded the bed with extra blankets because she knows I like to sleep warm while my face is cool above the covers. After I changed into my pajamas she knocked on the door and whispered, "Curt, if you look out the window there's a herd of deer in the backyard." I turned out the light and very softly, without making a sound, pulled the blinds. Six deer had arranged themselves in two tight clusters across the slope of the hill directly behind the house, not ten feet from my window. Their heads were down as they sifted through the snow in search of grass and the last of mom's summer and fall plants.
I watched them a moment, thinking of all the times Grandma and I had cuddled on the top bunk in her camper watching the deer move through the camp. It was a special thing for us, keeping our eyes on the hillsides or along the edge of the road in the tall sage or amid the lodge pole pines where they stood nearly invisible. Deer were always a special bond between Grandma and me. In fact, when I was born she made me a blanket on which was sewn a butterfly dancing in the air inches above Bambi's twitching tail. That film became a favorite of ours and she even bought me the soundtrack on vinyl, which I still have. Even when I lived in Chicago, where the deer are plentiful--and even a bit of a hazard--on the north shore, I always marveled at them, even when they galloped across narrow Sheridan Road in front of Cleo, my little red Nissan Sentra. Deer are symbols of gentleness and grace, unconditional love, the power of gratitude and also alternative paths to a goal. Those gathered in the yard outside my window, with their white bottoms and big ears, were my reward for the journey we made yesterday, Grandma's joy at my return home to celebrate the holiday she loved so much in the mountains where we were born.
Duncan had already curled up on the pillow where I planned to sleep, so I nudged him and called him to the window. He climbed to his feet with a soft groan and leaned forward, resting his paws on the sill where he watched them in rapt attention, his own ears raised, his tail swishing softly against the comforter from side to side. I stood next to him, my hand on his shoulders, and we watched them for more than an hour, the pale glow of the moon washing across the mountain, bathing the backyard in powder white. Finally I climbed under the covers and as I fell asleep Duncan stood guard, whining very quietly when they took cautious steps around the saplings, growling once or twice when they approached the window to peek in. And when I awoke this morning he was curled up next to me, spooned against my back, one paw draped over my shoulder.
Unconditional love and graitude.