Saturday, November 8, 2008

Odocoileus sniffapaloozus*

Last week was muzzleloader season for deer, and as I walked along the trail Saturday morning I heard a few shots in the distance. There's no hunting in the park, but there's private land nearby where people are free to blast away, provided they have a permit. Sometimes I get the impression that the deer are aware of the two-legged predators. I seem to see a lot more of them in the park, as if they are taking refuge there. But that's probably just my imagination. It's clear from watching them that they're not especially nervous or easily spooked.

The little doe I met as I headed back to my car on Saturday certainly wasn't hiding from anybody. She was nibbling on something near the trail, and when I came up she moved just a few feet away and stared me down. Deer always do the same thing when they decide to hold their ground instead of running away: They stand at an angle to you, giving a 3/4 profile. This gives the appearance of confrontation, yet makes it possible for them to take off for a quick getaway if necessary. They raise their heads to look as big and authoritative as possible, then they lift a skinny leg and stomp the ground as if to say, "You, scat!" When big bucks do this, it is slightly menacing; from does, with their soft eyes and dainty bodies, it is just ridiculous and endearing.

It was especially funny from this girl, because she was so tiny. She was bold, though. She gave a couple of extra stomps, and when I still didn't retreat, she actually moved toward me. Then she stopped and sniffed the air in my direction. That's another typical gesture, but instead of just taking the usual quick whiff, she really gave me an olfactory going over. She thrust her head forward and flared her nostrils, then withdrew for a second, looking thoughtful. She seemed a little perturbed, as if she was unable to place my scent--What are you? I stood still, and she sniffed at me again, twitching her nose and even opening her mouth a little. She seemed very curious, and took yet another step in my direction.

I wondered what about me could possibly be so intriguing, and then I remembered that I was doused in vintage Jolie Madame perfume. It's pretty potent stuff, and I think it must have been what inspired her reaction. Deer are very sensitive to scent, and I'm sure she had never smelled anything quite like me. The notes of vintage JM include musk, castoreum and civet. I have no idea if any of those were still naturally sourced when this juice was made, but if they were, I must have seemed like a remarkable beast to her: Funny, you don't look like a beaver.

Whatever she took me for, I was obviously the most interesting thing that had happened to her that day. She eventually turned her attention back to feeding, but she stayed very close, keeping an eye on me. Her nose twitched from time to time. When I decided to move on, she raised her head but didn't run. About 40 yards down the trail I looked back. She was still there watching me, and I couldn't help thinking that she seemed a little sad to see me go.

Original photo by Dori from Wikimedia Commons.

*A completely unauthorized but admiring reference to the fine folks at Sniffapalooza.


whodat said...

Oh, that's adorable! I wonder what she'll tell her friends back at the den.

BitterGrace said...

"Those humans--they'll roll in anything."

Margaret said...

"Ridiculous and endearing"-- that's perfect, Maria. We can all only hope that those to whom we seem ridiculous will also find us endearing.