Not far from Babble Meadow is another Magic place: Deer Mountain. However, unlike the Meadow where People are not allowed, you and I can tread the Mountain — but the Mountain has to invite you, first. You can pout and you can bring money and you can show your card that says you’re an Important Person, but it’s the Mountain that decides if you enter, or not…
How do you find Deer Mountain? If you go straight that away from the Meadows and drive and drive for a bit until you see a small sign and turn in you’ll be at Deer Mountain. However, you won’t be at the Mountain itself unless you go at the exact right time of 10 minutes before Twilight. A minute north or south and you’ll miss it and all you’ll see is plants and trees and squirrels and you’ll have a nice hike, and your thighs will be trimmer. But you won’t see Magic.
Tonight, when I walked across the bridge from here to there, I knew between one step on the bridge and one step off that I was there at exactly 10 minutes of Twilight, and that the residents didn’t find me wanting — even though I only had pocket change and had no card that said I was an Important Person. I was on Deer Mountain. I knew as soon as I stepped off the bridge, and was met by the gatekeepers of the Mountain: two bucks, standing tall, proud, and unafraid.
(But then, they would be unafraid, wouldn’t they? They’re Magic and I’m mere mortal.)
I stopped and held my breath and watched the bucks as they slowly walked along, nibbling on grass and leaf, occasionally glancing at me with little concern. Finally though, one of them, the one with the more important set of antlers, told me, “Well, lady. Get on with ye now. The light’s fading.” He didn’t say this out loud, of course. Don’t be silly: deer can’t speak. He told me with his eyes.
(Deer on Deer Mountain are very fluent with their eyes. They can converse in English, Russian, Spanish, Japanese, French, German, and even Swahili, though they speak Swahili with an accent — an ever so slight eyelid flutter.)
I walked along the trail that I knew but didn’t know because Magic misted the air around me. Crickets sounded in the shadows, and tiny scurrying things rustled the dry leaves. Cardinals would fly here and there, crossing the trail, scarlet red fading to gray as they receded into the distance.
I was walking down a steep hill when I heard a tremendous crash in the bushes next to the path. From them a doe burst out, both of us startled by each other’s presence. She gathered herself to run, and I called out to her, “No, don’t go. Please don’t go. I won’t hurt you.” Why did I call? It was the Magic, of course.
And she stopped. No more than my body length (me on the ground of course, stretched a bit, hair fluffed) away she stopped. And looked at me. How does the song go?
I looked at her and she looked at me and that’s the way I knew it would be…
I think both of us were equally surprised at her stopping. I fell silent and she started to run again, so I spoke again. “It’s all right. I won’t hurt you. Don’t go.” And again, she paused, uncertain. For a timeless moment we stood staring at each other, until she carefully turned away, crossing the trail and vanished into the bushes on the other side.
The night was fast approaching, impatient at the sun’s tenacious grip on the day. (Leggo! Leggo!) As I walked I could hear the deer in the trees all around me. When I reached the creek I looked up the hill and there were several deer—soft gray movement against darker gray hillside, silhouetted against the light. They looked at me, briefly, as one looks up at someone noisy entering a restaurant and you’re in the midst of your dinner.
Do you mind?
As I stood and watched, entranced, a woman came running along the trail, plastic workout pants swish swish with each move. Swish, swish. She looked neither right at the creek nor left at the deer. Swish, swish. Nor at me, if truth be told. Arms pumping, feet rapidly stepping, caught in an unbroken pace, vision determinedly inward. (No doubt she was imagining calories popping off her body like fleas jump off a dog in water. Swish, swish. Ten calories. Swish, swish. Twenty calories. Swish, swish. Bite of candy bar).
Both the deer and I looked at her as she ran past but she didn’t see us.
The night was winning its battle and I knew I had to move on. All around me the sounds of the forest were changing into those of the night rhythms. No one else was about and since I had no light it was becoming increasingly difficult to see anything other than the path in front of me. I increased my pace, even up hills thought the effort left me puffing. I felt that my time with the deer was over because I could no longer hear them around me or sense their presence in the bush next to the path. However, I was to discover why when I reached a fork in the trail.
Surrounding a small pond—really nothing more than a watering hole pretending to be important—there were deer and deer and deer. Deer drinking the water. Deer lazily pulling at the weeds. Deer nudging each other, sniffing the air, scratching their necks with back feet. All looking at me. Looking at me.
The dirt around the water was almost white, and I could see the deer as smudges of smoke against its lightness, with pale rings of white around eyes, slashes of white on tails. I couldn’t count the number because the light was being tricky, turning shadow into real and real into shadow. But they — shadows and deer — were everywhere.
The moment was priceless and I had my camera and itched, veritably itched, to take a photo. There was too little light and the only way the picture would take is if I used my flash. But I knew that my flash would be a harsh report in the night, startling the deer, driving them away. I would get my photo, but the Magic would be ruined. Gone.
I weighed the decision in my mind — the desire to share the experience with you, and the need to keep the Magic. In the end Magic won because at that moment, it was more real than you.
A few steps more and I was nearing the end of the path. The darkening forest gently but firmly pushed me towards the bridge, as a host would lead a guest who has overstayed their welcome to the door. It’s been lovely to see you, do drop by again sometime. Get out now.
And as I drove home, lost in wonder, I topped a hill and in the sky, huge and golden, the harvest moon looked down on me.