The woods were lush as they are in June, but all the rain made them even greener than usual. As Fate and I turned onto the last trail heading home, I saw bluejays and crows swooping across the path ahead of us.
That was unusual so I paid close attention, thinking maybe there was a hurt bird that they were either protecting or attacking.
The birds flew away as I got closer and when I got to the place where they had been I saw the fawn laying on the side of the path, barely hidden under some ferns.
It was like a scene from a fairy tale or a dream. The fawn was perfect, a beautiful little thing, just sitting there.
When it saw me it got up. It’s back legs were weak and bent, like they couldn’t straighten out. She hobbled across the path to get away from me then plunked down again, unable to go any further.
I have learned from a lifetime of rescuing wild animals that few of them survive. I gave up trying to nurse baby birds early on. And of the baby squirrels and rabbits I’ve tried to save, only two lived. I know it’s best to leave a baby animals where it is, that it’s mother is usually nearby and will most likely come back as soon as I leave. And I know that deer leave their babies in tall grasses while they go to find food.
But when I saw that fawn struggling to stand and thought of the crows and blue jays possibly coming after it, all of this knowledge left me.
Panic set in. And something else happened too. I didn’t realize it at the time, but what I saw as a helpless, injured fawn, triggered something inside of me.
As a child I was always looking to be rescued. I had fantasies about being whisked away by a stranger who loved and knew me better than I knew myself. The stranger took me to a giant Victorian house down a long driveway through the woods. And I lived there, hidden and safe, reading books in the library that went on forever and working in the gardens surrounding the house.
A part of me knew I should leave the fawn right where it was and go back to my car. My neighbor, whose woods I was walking in, is a retired Veterinarian, I could tell him about the fawn and he could reassure me that it was the right thing to do.
But I was already in a panic. Reason left me and my emotions were taking over. Walking away from the fawn, who I thought was in danger, was like walking away from myself as a little kid. I had become the “stranger” and all I wanted to do was make sure the fawn was safe.
So I picked the fawn up, like I might a baby goat, and headed back to my neighbors house. She made a bleating sound, but otherwise stayed still in my arms. Still indecisive, I stopped several times on the way back, questioning what I was doing. But each time I imagined the fawn being attacked by the crows and bluejays, and kept moving.
My neighbor was in his garden and when he saw the fawn he said there was nothing wrong with her. She was just young. Probably a day old and still learning to walk.
I was relieved and upset at the same time. I took the fawn back to the spot where I found her hoping the mother would come back for her.
Over the next few weeks I worried about the fawn. Had her mother found her again. Had she rejected the fawn because my smell was on her? In trying to save the fawn, I had become her greatest danger.
I was afraid to go back into the woods. As much as I wanted to know the fawn was safe, I was terrified at the thought of finding her dead where I left her.
So I stayed away.
During that time I came to understand that the fawn was a stand in for myself. That I had panicked and made a bad decision about moving the fawn because it brought back to me my own feelings of being vulnerable and unsafe as a child. In “rescuing” the fawn, I was trying to rescue myself.
I went back to the woods about a month later. I realized I was actually afraid that the woods would reject me. That I would no longer be invited there. I had no idea of how this would manifest, but my fear felt real.
The woods didn’t reject me, they were the same as when I had last been in them, as they had always been. They actually felt safer in that I didn’t feel judged by them.
I saw no sign of the fawn and I later learned that my neighbor had seen no sign of her either.
This is not something I will soon forget. It went too deep and there are too many lessons in it for me.
I’ll never know what happened to the fawn. If her mother found her and she lived, or if, because of me, she died. I still feel sad when I think about it, but I’ve accepted the reality and responsibility of it.
The words “Safe in the Woods” came to me when I decided to use the fabric with the deer and the fawn on it in my quilt. I knew as I was sewing it together that it was part of a healing process for me. That it was about understanding my own issues with feeling safe and accepting and forgiving myself for what happened in the woods with the fawn that day.
I sold my quilt Safe in the Woods, to my friends Becca and Mike. They have their own story about being safe in the woods and you can read it here.