Deer have fascinated me since childhood. They are such beautiful, gentle creatures. There are wild fallow deer (dama dama) roaming freely in the local woodland where I walk every day. For years I have spent time in these woods, watching, waiting and observing deer. As time goes on, I have come to recognise that many of the deer’s traits, I have too, and I feel that I really resonate with them and their way of being.
They are sensitive creatures, and are highly tuned to sense danger. Fallow deer are the most nervous of deer species, probably due to their developed defence mechanisms from being hunted by wolves. They are skittish, nervy and take flight with the slightest hint or sense of danger nearby. They are vulnerable to being hunted, caught, harmed or killed by predators, even from a distance. In order to survive they have their own fight flight freeze fear response just like we humans do. Anyone who has experienced trauma, PTSD, C-PTSD, panic or anxiety, will understand what this feels like, and it is interesting for me to connect with deer in this way, to know that they experience fear and panic just like humans do.
When observing them, I have noticed that they have a strong sense of danger from a distance away. They also sense closeness. I feel this is all about trust, and using their intuition to keep themselves safe. I find it fascinating that I too now have a heightened sense of when they are close, and often ‘feel’ their presence before I see them.
Deer are illusive. They blend into the background rather than stand out. Maybe standing out makes them feel vulnerable. So when trying to find them in the woods, I found that relaxing my eyes and letting them focus gently on the environment helped me to see them. Deer have coats that enable them to blend into the environment. Their antlers, look like twigs or branches in the woods, this is a way of protecting themselves with clever camouflage.
I have noticed that fallow deer often stick together and protect each other. They will often walk or stand side by side, or very close to each other. They seem to be very gentle, caring creatures, that deeply care about their fellow deer. They form bunches, safety in numbers. If one deer senses danger, they move, breaking away from the bunch. This forms a chain reaction with the other deer who then follow. There are, of course, times of the year when deer form different groups or behave slightly differently such as the rutting session (more on this in a later post).
In the woodland where I walk, there is a pool of water, in the dip of a valley, hidden from the main paths and direct view. I watch the deer, drinking from this pool. It feels like I’m observing a very private experience, where the deer may not be able to see me, but I can see them. They feel safe there. Maybe they sense me, but trust that I am not of any danger. There is a sense of stillness and calm about the experience, which, on reflection, must be how they feel. There was something about them only stopping to drink water when they feel safe, and the sense of calmness this brings, that I connected with. I really wanted to paint this experience.
A local photographer had taken a photograph of a stag drinking from the pool, and kindly gave me permission to use his photo composition as a basis for a painting. The painting is acrylic paint on canvas 36inches x 24 inches.
Deer often gaze at me with their huge eyes, but they don’t panic and run, and that is important to me, that they trust me. Its like I see into their soul, and they into mine, and together, we have a shared understanding.