Cherry looked out the kitchen window one recent morning and noticed a deer inside the vineyard.
“There is a deer in the vineyard” she said, as I walked in looking for my first cup of coffee. The dog barked in agreement.
The vineyard is surrounded by an 8 foot deer fence, and has three gates, all 8 foot as well. The reason everything is 8 foot high is that a deer cannot jump an 8 foot fence. The only way a deer could get in there is either through an open gate, or by parachute. The latter seemed unlikely.
“It must have gone through an open gate somewhere” I said, stating the obvious. I was not ready to go and chase after a deer without a number of things having been taken care of: coffee; newspaper; shower; in that order. In the mornings, I like my routine, much like an older dog. Any disruption in my morning routine tends to sour my outlook on a good part of the day.
Morning routine performed, I grabbed one of the cameras and climbed into the RTV. The RTV is a 4-wheel drive vehicle that we use around here. It has all the Grandpa comforts: AC, heat in the winter, and a good stereo. It doesn’t go fast, but it goes just about anywhere on the property. Moreover, we use it to plow the road in the winter, making it very handy indeed as shoveling 800 meters of road is simply out of the question.
I drove up to the vineyard, stopping at the Main gate to open it. In the sandy soil, I could clearly see hoof prints in front of the gate, carrying on through to the other side. The deer must have walked in this way. And since the last time the gate was open was around eight in the evening the previous day, the deer had been trapped in there over night.
I latched the gate open, and drove up to the vineyard. I started by driving slowly up the headland, a “road” that rings the vineyard, looking for the deer. Hopefully there was just one. A few years ago, another deer had taken advantage of an open door to go in. It had taken patience to get it out, as, by nature, deer are not cooperative types; and getting one to go somewhere specific, such as an opening in a long fence, is not easy without a sizeable number of people to coax it.
It didn’t take long for me to find it. It was in a row, standing there as though waiting for a cab. I stopped and got out. This deer looked like one of the “ladies” that live on the property. Then again, to be honest, they all look a lot alike, unless they’re in a group which allows for comparisons. This one did not look full-size, but close to it: a deer teenager. We looked at each other. “The gate is open”, I stated. The big ears twitched. I repeated “the gate is open”, pointing to the general direction of the gate. It turned and trotted off in the opposite direction. I climbed back in and went up the headland and around the back or north east side of the vineyard, hoping to meet it. A minute or so later, I was there and so was the deer.
We stared at each other again. Again it turned and trotted off, following the fence down, looking for a way out.
As I mentioned earlier, there are three large 12 foot gates in the deer fence that surrounds the vineyard. I had not had the time to open the other two. Now the deer was heading towards the gate at the low end of the vineyard which was still padlocked. I puttered along approximately 50 feet behind it, hoping to keep it moving along the fence until it went down the road it had come in on. It would occasionally stop and press against the wire mesh with its nose, then move further down. After a while, it suddenly turned down into one of the rows. I got there to see its white butt disappear at the other end of the row. It had turned much before any of the rows that would have led it back to the entrance road, and the open Main gate. Now it was heading back up the headland, where I had found it, and toward the higher part of the vineyard where the upper gate was still locked.
Going in the opposite direction, I drove down to the low-end gate and unlocked it, leaving it wide open. I then drove back up the headland. No deer visible anywhere. Maybe it had found its way out while I was opening the gate, I hoped. No such luck. I spotted it, below the vineyard, near the open Main gate and following the fence, but going the wrong way. I stopped and got out, turning off the engine. “Hey!” I shouted. “You’re going the wrong way! The gate’s open over there!” I yelled, gesticulating towards the open gate behind the deer. It stopped and looked at me, ears splayed out on either side of its head, listening to me, not moving.
As an aside, I’m quite sure that an animal with hands, such as a chimp, would understand a pointing gesture and look in the direction of the pointing hand. Four-legged animals, however, often seem to look at the hand. I’ve tried this with many dogs. Very few look to where one is pointing; most simply look at your hand. Ours is, of course, an exception as she is smarter than a number of humans I have encountered over the years.
Nevertheless, you’d think that a deer that has lived here all of its life would have picked up a smidgen of the Queen’s English. Not this one, it just looked at me. I got back in and drove up to the upper gate and opened it wide as well. By the time that was done, the deer had jumped back onto the headland and was headed towards the back part of the vineyard between the rows. I could see ears bouncing up and down a dozen rows down.
Ha! I thought, now I can try to make it head down the vineyard, toward the open low gate. It got halfway there before it stopped, turned, looked at me once more, and promptly headed back into the rows, back toward the south west side of the vineyard. I drove up to the row it had entered. I stopped and turned off the engine. I went toward it; the deer was only about 20 feet into the row. We stared at each other again. Clearly, it was not alarmed. An alarmed white-tail deer sticks its little tail up in the air, like a flag. This one’s tail was down. It just did not want to cooperate.
“I’m trying to help you out here.” I said. Its mouth was open and it was clearly panting from all the exercise. I kept a calm tone of voice. “All three gates are open now. Take your pick, but you can’t stay here. You’ve already spent the night in here. Now it’s time to go.”
It looked at me. Then after a minute or so, walked under the wire holding up the irrigation drip line, pushing the works upwards. “Wait a minute!” I said raising my voice, “BAD! Stop that! You’re going to break stuff”. I quickly moved to front of the next row. It did it again, pushing through nose first and ears flat back to next row, even harder this time. I could hear the plastic clips that hold the drip line break. “Stop that!” I yelled “You’re breaking stuff!” I ran up the headland to the following row.
It was standing there, looking at me. I was upset. This was simply bad behaviour. I’m pretty sure it realized that if it had been within my reach, it would have gotten a slap on the bum. It looked down at the ground, then back up at me while I chastised it about pushing its way through from one row to the next. We stood silently for a while, looking at each other. I took the opportunity to grab a few pictures. The camera did not seem to phase it in the least. In fact, I got the impression it was posing. Then, like the other times, it suddenly turned its back to me and trotted off down the row. I took a last photo, and as I did, I noticed the position of its ears: completely facing backwards, towards me! Imagine that: double-jointed ears!
It got to the end of the row, at the headland, and stopped. It looked left, then right, obviously deciding on which way to go. By now it was more than 150 feet from me. It went the wrong way, again, turning right and disappearing from sight.
Frustrated, I went back to the RTV and, taking a shortcut myself, went down in between two rows. Once on the other side of the vineyard, I stopped near the entrance road and clambered onto the dump bed of the RTV, allowing me a view three feet higher: no blasted deer anywhere. I stood there for a few minutes, leaning on the cab, peering in the distance to see if it would go through the open upper gate.
I climbed back down and, as I went around to the front of the RTV, that’s when I saw it. It was perfectly still, looking at me, at the entrance of the next row. Here I was looking in the distance like Napoleon looking over a Russian battlefield, and there it was, eight feet away…
“That’s not funny.” I said looking at the deer. It remained perfectly still. “OK” I said “stop this nonsense and come here”. I was slapping my thigh with a hand the way one would call a dog over. It stared at me. “Come here!” I repeated the gesture. It took one small step forward. Yes, I thought, I may finally be getting through! The deer took another step towards me. Now I was positively beaming. “Come on…” I urged gently, “It’s time to rejoin your friends”. I backed off a bit, giving it more room to walk past me and down the road to the open main gate. It didn’t work. After another step that brought it even closer, it did a sharp right turn, and bouncing as though on springs, headed north on the headland once more. Some fifty feet further, it did a huge bounce and clearing the top wire of the vines that grow along the headland, and headed down to the fence.
But, now that the upper gate was open, there was a chance that this time it would find its way out. That is, of course, unless it decided to change direction before it got to the open gate.
It was following the fence as I caught up —Grandpa Speed, even when motorized, and Deer Speed are noticeably different. Sure enough, close to the gate, it turned right suddenly heading back up the slope towards the vineyard rows. I accelerated, trying to cut it off at the pass. It reached the headland and saw me coming. It angled away from the rows, towards the upper gate. I slowed down from my neck-snapping 30 kph. The deer slowed as well. Then, as if miraculously struck by complete enlightenment, it veered off fully in the direction of the upper gate. That’s when I noticed that the wind had almost blown the gate shut.
My spirits sank as I saw the deer stop near the gate, but not go through it. The gate was moving slowly, gradually closing. The deer was looking at the slowly closing gate. It turned its head back, looking directly at me. We looked at each other for a few seconds, precious seconds while the wind pushed the gate closed. Then, ears straight up, it slid through the narrow opening, pushing the gate back slightly as it went through.
Once on the other side, it looked back once more. I waved. The Grandpa in me could not resist. “I hope you learned a lesson” I said in a low voice. The big ears twitched.
I think it heard me.