I take slow careful steps through the damp grass. The fog moves through the trees like a living thing. I am following a game trail, meandering through the haunting trees that seem to reach out of the fog with crooked fingers, beckoning me deeper into the wood. Luminous white mushrooms on precarious translucent stilts spot the grass, looking deadly alongside more benign earthy brown caps with creamy stems. As the deer moved through this meadow earlier in the day, they had taken bites out of the brown capped mushrooms, leaving the pure white ones untouched, the dew on the grass surrounding them undisturbed as if they had given these a wide berth.
I knelt and studied the remnants of a brown cap in the trampled grass. The deer had plucked an entire mushroom out of the ground, leaving the stem and a small portion of the cap discarded on the forest floor. I continued my stalk, noting the battleground of russet mushroom remains adorning the glistening grass. The more sparsely distributed snowy white mushrooms remained untouched among the fallen pieces of their less fortunate and evidently harmless neighbors. Pensive steps, studying the scene; why did the deer eat only part of the brown mushrooms? Were they in a rush and grabbing a quick snack? Were the mushrooms tastiest directly after being uprooted from the ground? Were they simply so plentiful that the deer were unconcerned with waste? Certain mushrooms remained unscathed as if the deer had carefully selected the ones they had sampled. Were they spared simply as lucky survivors or deadly foe? I stopped dead and stared down at the freshly turned earth with the mashed translucent white mushroom pressed into the soil by angry hooves. I blinked; it was surely a coincidence, I reasoned as I pressed on. A deer would not think to destroy something harmful for the sake of others…would it? The fog rolled and spun through the trees, casting mist over the tall grass, deadening the sounds in the forest, and making it seem uncommonly still. No birds, no coyotes, just silence. The trail we followed emerged from the stand of trees and circled a small divot, surrounded by hoof prints and filled with a meager puddle of water. There was no water source nearby, aside from the winding green river hundreds of feet below the rocky cliffs and still miles away. The deer in this wood had dug this hole to find this ground water source. How did they know where it was? What kind of biological technology was this? Could they smell the minerals rising from the earth? We continued up the narrow winding trail set by delicate hooves and followed it to a ridge overlooking the wood. This was where we found the beds; perfect oval indents in the foliage where a deer had curled up for the night. I don’t know if deer care about scenery but judging where they choose to bed down at night, I think they must. I lean down to touch the center of one of the beds, trying to feel something but unsure of what. I gazed out at the view of rolling verdant hills like velvet, marked by sharp rock faces etched so carefully it’s as if I can see the behemoth glacier that mercilessly carved them out long ago. The intricate branches of the oaks surrounding look like black lace on the pale sky. Any hunter would tell you that this deer chose this knoll for its resting place because of the view that spanned miles of meadow and forest. This kind of lookout was ideal for spotting the predatory feline beasts lurking in trees throughout this place. The buck had not sat here picturing a glacier gouging out the picturesque valley below. Continuing our stalk, we followed the ridge line around a golden green meadow. At the tree line I found a small pine sapling, stripped of its bark, one branch hanging limply from its broken hold. This was a small buck then. The pine was no taller than me and the trunk was spindly, no bigger around than a baseball bat. The buck was marking its territory, warning off the others that he was king of this particular knoll. He would have dark antlers, the result of rubbing them against pine trees, the pitch clinging to the whimsical curves. I wondered if he was aware of how small his pine tree quarry was and had done it anyway even while knowing that a larger buck would snort in derision at such a miniscule rub. Would a larger buck even notice the size of the tree? Or would he just see that a tree had been rubbed and steer away from the area? As we crested the next hill, we saw them. Three deer; two does, one buck. They bounded up the other side of the canyon and along the ridge we had just painstakingly crossed as we stalked them for miles. At the rise of the knoll, the buck paused, looking back at us in silent question and even as he slowed to a resigned walk, we seemed only a mild inconvenience to him, just two odd creatures in the woods interrupting his busy day.