Whitetails and water

In a blur, a whitetail fawn heads for the safety of the woods.Summer is nigh. Fireflies blink in the tall grass. This year has given us several catbird families — we’ve always had one or two, but never the more than three pair of nesters we’ve seen this year. And a Brown Thrasher has been around this year for the first time, often enough we are pretty sure he has a lover.

One of our daughters picks on us for being old people, sitting around watching birds. I say more of us should do that. It is relaxing.

But Oh! To share the piece of video I did not get this week!

I was walking across a field of tall grass the other day. The camera was hanging at my hip from a neckstrap. I had been shooting honey bees, dragonflies, butterflies and moths, but just then I was moseying along looking at everything and nothing, headed for the car and dinner, when I nearly stepped on it. Curled in the bottom of a 14-inch bowl pressed into the tall grass was the unmistakable white-spotted medium brown ball of Whitetail fawn.

I stopped, standing on one foot, and my right hand went for the camera. Had I not stopped, he likely would have stayed put, but I did, and he didn’t.

He (Pardon my use of the male pronoun; there was no time to check on the physiological correctness of that particular grammatical structure) exploded from his stationary pose, circled behind my leg, raced a few bounds down the tree line, and disappeared into the wood. I got two frames — one a blur, the other sharp as he turned side onto me, part of his ears still visible in the picture.

It’s pictures like those that will forever remind me of the one I carry only in my head of a baby deer trying to hide in the tall grass, doing it well enough to be almost squashed under the size 10.5 of a human’s hiking boot.

From the air, the youngster was in an excellent spot. A wood, only a few feet from his cradle, formed the bo undary of the field of grass and wildflowers, and disguised a stream – more a trickle, really, but enough to form a wetland – from which emanated the distinctive sound of a Red-winged Blackbird.

There are other birds back there, but I have never learned to catalog them by their calls. The loud, celebratory vibrato of a Red-winged Blackbird is unmistakable, and one of the first songs I was to associate back in the swamp that lived behind my childhood home.

Something there is about water, to paraphrase a favorite poet. An adult human comprises about 65 percent water. We spend the first nine months swimming in a concoction of mostly water, and the rest of our lives trying to be near it. We pay good money, when we can amass enough of it, to sit by a stream and listen to the magical molecules of oxygen and hydrogen tumble over rocks, wearing them into sand to be lifted and carried downstream, building and unbuilding islands, wearing channels into mountains, exposing geologic history to future generations.

Fortunately for those future generations, we seem to be learning to restore what we once arrogantly destroyed. Rockefeller made kerosene to power street lamps, and dumped the by-product – gasoline – in the river. Farmers and other humans were assigning other wastes to the flow of passing waterways long before Rockefeller came along.

But we are getting better at cleaning up. Bugs in the water and at least one frightened young Whitetail seem to bear witness to our efforts.

Pat Naugle, former hydroelectric plant manager and current president of the Watershed Alliance of Adams County, collects monthly samples from Adams County streams. (Video 2 mins 29 secs)

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