“I am Not the Grace of Doe” by Your Deer; Jan 10, 2013
There is a beautiful and romanticized image of the doe. The doe is graceful, elegant, and delicate. She is shy and unattainable, disappearing softly at the slightest sound. Her eyes have become a cliche for the vulnerable, docile feminine, and a glimpse of her, staring back at you for a profound moment before she flies, is precious and moving.
I am not this doe.
In fact, in a way I hate this doe.
No doe is really this doe. Let me tell you a few things about cervids, the whitetail doe in particular.
Cervids are olfactory animals. That means they learn things about other deer with their sense of smell.
What that means is that the smelliest things about deer are pretty crucial to the way deer live. As with many animals, urine plays a large part in communication – males will urinate in pools and wallow in them to advertise; they will also urinate on their feet to leave their scent with their hoofprints. Females advertise their eligibility to mate by urinating, also.
It means that does will ingest the excrement of their young in order to prevent fawns from having a scent that would give away their position to predators.
Does aren’t always gentle or vulnerable.
In winter, does that are healthier and more able to sense danger will actively prevent other does and fawns from having access to food. Even if a high-ranking doe no longer needs to eat, she will fend off others from the food area and not allow them access, even if they are starving.
Nor do deer always flee in the face of danger – several accounts chronicle deer attacking dogs and humans when threatened, in some cases quite brutally. Not many animals hold up closely to their romanticized stereotypes when their survival is put into question, but the desperate deer is the exact opposite of its gentle popular image, its adorable hoofs formidable and unexpected weapons.
Besides that, deer do kill, sometimes to eat. A number of articles bring to light the fact that deer do eat carrion, and there is record of deer killing and eating grounded birds.
For me, though, there’s more that negates the image of the wholly graceful doe than just wildlife facts. Because the grace of deer, the elegance, is not what makes me deer. As far as the romantic stereotype goes, I do usually feel more inclined to flight, and can be standoffish as a mode of self-preservation. I feel vulnerable in the way that I recognize deer are very, very “killable” – living in Vermont, I saw a great deal of dead deer and the mortality of the whitetail in a hunting community that supports a healthy coyote population was impossible to ignore. I do not feel graceful; usually I feel colossally awkward, and something about deer speaks of that awkwardness to me. Being spooked about nothing, the awkward indignation of being disturbed, the skittering flight are all deer. These things are aspects of the romantic stereotype, but I do not perceive them in a romantic way. I do not think being deer makes me mysterious, desirable, or delicate.
Since I’ve become able to consciously analyze my animality, I have found it extremely important to define myself by the more negative or humble aspects of an animal as well as the positive and proud ones. I have difficulty understanding people who speak of their animality primarily in terms of the powerful, beautiful, majestic, or strong. Yes, there are things about deer that I think are lovely and ideal and that I relate to very much. I love the flick of their ears, the clarity of their gaze, the small cloven hoof poised not quite touching the ground, the flag of the tail, the sudden and fleeting bounding away. These are things that I can feel. But I can also feel the awkward stretch of the neck for browse, the indignation of being encroached upon, the need to hide, to flee, to fear. I can feel the undignified sound of the grunt and wheeze, the frozen discomfort of surprise and being caught in headlights, so to speak, and the hurried skitter away. Even the olfactory things that we consider unpleasant or gross in our culture make some sense to me – conveniently, as a human, I do not need to use urine to communicate sexual availability, but I rarely feel the need to rid myself of sexual smells when I notice them.
I can’t deny the beauty and seriousness of feeling deer, or of following a deer path through the woods. I can’t ignore the bark and smell, the moss and magic, but I also can’t ignore that these paths are liberally punctuated with droppings. And this, for me, is an adequate metaphor for my experience of being doe: I can acknowledge the beautiful and wonderful, but must take into account the awkward and uncomfortable as well. I would not be deer if I could not accept both the loveliness and the unpleasantness of the doe.