It’s late in the evening and on the way to the woods I pass a pair of reddish ears pricked and alert in the long grasses among the sorrel and milkmaid flowers. Because the ears are facing away from me I am not heard and I get past, without disturbing the evening cud-chewing.
I finally settle myself on a broken wall on the edge of the woods. I’ve had to creep over beech mast and fallen twigs to get here and I’ve tried not to tread on them so they crack and make my presence known. It’s hard work and makes me nervous. Some blackbirds are clucking in alarm and a wood pigeon clatters out of the tree above me advertising widely my alien presence. There’s a strong smell of animal.
An owl shrieks somewhere not far off. It’s not very dark but the woods are in fact quite crepuscular. After only a couple of minutes a roe hind walks past about 10 metres away. She doesn’t notice me sitting on the wall: she is intent on nibbling fresh shoots along the path. The owl carries on shrieking. The blackbirds carry on clucking.
A breeze makes the leaves dance and I can’t help thinking there’s an animal about but it might just be the burr of the leaves, their fluttering as the daylight fades. After a few more minutes, I see the roe hind has drawn closer and is eating leaves from a tree only a few metres away. I get my binoculars out to see her more clearly, to check on the summeriness of her coat and see if there are any kids in tow yet. It is then I realise that it is me who is watched. My movement disturbs her slightly and she jumps away but stops by another tree and looks back. As I do nothing, she returns to her nonchalant nibbling and only step by step makes a dignified exit.
On the other side of the wall, I catch sight of another hind among the bluebells. She has noticed me too but as I keep absolutely still she doesn’t show fright. A stag with several tines to his antlers denoting some age, although being a roe he still looks Bambi-ishly young. He is walking near her through the trees. So much for his being a lonesome singleton.
Difficult to tell a deer with stick thin legs from the young trees or the old stalks of bracken. He gazes at me intently for a while but goes back to his grazing among the bluebells. It is then that an unearthly bark chases me out of the woods. As I hurry away the barking continues even when I have reached several hundred metres away. Is the stag barking at me intruding on his territory or at other males? The barking continues till I reach the gate on to the road. I want to know if its me they are barking at or if the evening barking is a daily ritual. It’s another world down there in the woods and I leave it, to return to my house, the electric lights and my book.