Trailing Deer

I find myself on all fours, breathing carefully, listening closely to the alarm calls of birds up ahead. My palm tingles where I accidentally placed it on a nettle as I crept through bracken on my hands and knees.

I’m following a deer trail, crawling through narrow tunnels in a forest of head-height bracken. The pungent smell of the crushed green ferns fills my nose, mingling with scents of damp earth and fragrant wafts of honeysuckle and pine. The deer – a mother and fawn roe, I’m guessing, judging by the size of the trails – have not been through here today, but maybe yesterday.

My tracking skills are rudimentary at best, but I’m not actually looking for the deer themselves, even though it’s exciting to spot their signs….droppings here and there, a flattened grassy patches where they’ve bedded down to rest, young trees stripped of bark.

I’m here, following this hidden trail, because I felt called to follow it. I’m on a wild wander, a three hour solo journey, wandering the boundary of inner and outer worlds. Tracking the outer landscape around me as a reflection of the landscape inside.

The path through the bracken piqued my curiosity. I wondered how it would feel, to follow its twists and turns as it narrowed, creeping deeper into the secrets of the bracken. Being the deer for a while, stepping into her skin, her thoughts, her wisdom.

My human-ness frustrates me. I do not creep lithely, agilely and delicately like the deer. I lumber awkwardly, in comparison, wincing as I land on bramble or nettle, and I am far from silent. My hips ache and my knees feel stiff, unwieldy. And yet, as I pause in a tiny clearing, listening to the birds chattering at some disturbance up ahead, I realise I feel part of this hidden world.

My life outside is forgotten temporarily as I focus on the smells, the sounds, the detail of the trail. It’s utterly absorbing, grounding, calming and enlivening. My heart beats with anticipation, my nostrils flare to pick up any new scent, my eyes are wide, alert to any movement up ahead and to either side. My ears tune in to the “teck teck teck” alarm call of a wren, and the “chook chook” of the blackbird. They are not sounding the alarm at me, but at something else ahead. Fox? Human? Sparrowhawk? I’m not sure, but I speak enough of this language of birds to know that something’s going on. I’m not a complete stranger, and that’s a good feeling.

The trail peeters out at another day bed site and my heart sinks at the thought of following the narrow trail all the way back to where I started. I search around and find hints of another tiny trail, less well used than the one I came along, but a trail nonetheless. I return to all fours, pushing my way gently along, weaving through tall, strong stalks. The branches of a bracken jungle.

Eventually I emerge, blinking, onto a human-made path. Broad, mown, straight. I stand, look around, human again. Mostly human. I still feel the deer inside. She’s always there, creeping lithely through life, through twists and turns, watching, waiting, leaping. Soft, yet strong. Quiet, yet powerful. Thoughtful, yet bold. Wild. Free.

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