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A Doe Story
by Val Johnson

It was cold that morning. Real cold. Even my dog, when he came to the kitchen door at my invitation, once he smelled the inrush of air, declined my invitation and slunk back to his curl-up spot by the wood stove. Only fools go out at 15 below. Damn fools at 20 below; he placed me in the latter group.

I was in a hurry to do my mile -- to get to the road, touch my neighbour's mailbox and return. On a warmer day I had stepped it out as exactly half a mile, so down and back was my morning ritual.

The cats were hunched up on the hay, protecting their feet with their bellies, their curious eyes following me as I made my way to the road, then turned east. On most days there was power in the sun.  I could feel it on my cheeks, but not this morning. A "blue morning" the old timers would call it.

When I got to the place where the deer trail crossed on its way back to the cedars, the drama was depicted in the overnight snow. Deer tracks headed north, brake furrows headed east, bits of orange plastic, blue paint, deer hair and trickles of blood in the road and fall down marks along the deer trail. I abandoned my usual ritual and followed.

I didn't have to go far before I found her. She lay crumpled up on the trail, her front leg laid to her side in a most peculiar attitude. An open oozing gash on her flank was draining her life into the Wisconsin snow.

I approached her and she tried to raise her head so I waited until she relaxed.  I circled her and met her from the front. Her brown eyes registered fear, hurt, and death --but most of all fear. She was helpless, and she knew it, and here was the ultimate predator, one who kills with tools, approaching. She gave a bleat and a sigh. Standing for a moment, leaning on a birch, I curiously felt my heart filling with pity for this magnificent creature with the pain-filled languid eyes. Somehow my feelings of sympathy were conveyed to her for she seemed to relax even more.

I shivered and drew close to her, kneeling by her side. As I touched her forehead with my finger there came an electric spark, a connection, between us. We both understood that this connection would be of but a short time. She was dying.

She told me of the hot summers she had known, the cold winters. Some filled with deep snow, some easier, but most of all, she was proudest of the fawns she had birthed, suckled, and raised. Two bucks and a doe fawn were her legacy. The most recent, the doe, now ran with the group she had herded across the road in front of the blue truck. She was so concerned for her fawn's safety, she had taken just a second too long to cross. She had just a short time now.

I told her I would stay with her. Even humans loathe the thought of dying alone.

After a few minutes of silence she said, "I am so cold."

Without hesitation I lay down next to her, cradled her in my arms and waited for her next labored breath. We spent only ten breaths in our embrace.

As her eyes lost the glow of life, I thanked her for the moments she had shared with me and the valuable lesson she had taught me: A life's duration is measured from breath to breath.


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