The Deer saw all this from his place concealed at the edge of the forest. The First Man was becoming weaker as he hunted. He could not make a kill while his arms had not the strength to draw his bow properly, and while his legs did not have the strength to stalk properly. The Deer saw that the First Men would soon perish. Then the Deer changed his form so the man would not know him.
The First Man saw a dark animal at the edge of the forest, bigger than the Squirrel or the Towhee, and standing still and close. It took the last of his strength to pull back his bow and shoot. The animal fell, and only when the First Man came close did he see that it was his friend and teacher the Deer.
The First Man was terribly frightened and sad, but the Deer was a Spirit Deer and he answered the Man’s fear and sadness by saying, “As long as you eat my meat with reverence and kill only for need, my children and your children will inhabit these hills in peace forever.”
Tim felt much like a First Man as his memories slipped away into sleep. But this deer was unlikely to give himself up so that he could eat.
* * *
Like the puffy down of cottonwood they came, rolling on invisible currents of air, settling on Tim’s clothing and instantly disappearing into the fabric. He had awakened to feed the dying fire only to find the ground already white with snow. Tim had known that it was coming, but still he was not ready for it.
He left the shelter of the cutbank and stepped out into the swirling mass. A slight wind funnelled down the creek, sucking warmth from his exposed arms and finding its way through the many rips in his clothing.
He threw back his head in wonder at the delicate beauty of the snowfall. The flakes fell harmlessly into his eyes and mouth and collected on his clothing. He knew that he should be scared; it surprised him that he wasn’t.
He stood out far longer than he should have, and when he returned to the fire it took a long time to stop shivering.
Animals are more predictable than people. Very little of their behavior is learned; most of it is born in them.
Mule deer are not the intellectuals of the animal world, nor are they cursed with an excess of curiosity. Their first reaction to any new object or event is to walk wide around it, then study it from afar. They are creatures of the open forest and plains, thriving best where underbrush is scarce and visibility is high; they place faith in distance. This is often the death of them. They will sometimes stare openly at a hunter while he knocks them down from 300 yards away with a high powered rifle.
Tim’s deer was more cautious than normal because he had been wounded and because the area he was in was entirely new to him. And there was more.
When Tim had fallen into the stream and hit his head, he had not been knocked unconscious. He had been swept downstream only a few hundred yards and had come out dazed and maddened by pain. He had run after the wounded deer, bleeding from his head wound, dripping water, and screaming. The chase lasted for hours, and when Tim finally collapsed, he remembered none of it.
That was why he was so badly lost, and why the deer feared him with an almost human fear. more tomorrow