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Essay: For the Deer

On an early spring morning, my husband and I are paddling the Manistee River. The water is high this time of year and the air cold, but the sun feels warm on my back. Sitting in the bow of the canoe, I am alert for wildlife.

Over the years, we’ve traveled this stretch many times and can remember where we saw the beaver and the great blue heron, the mergansers and the muskrats.

Today, I’m looking for deer—hoping to glimpse a doe and maybe a new fawn.

Each time we pass a woods, I peer through the trees trying to see the familiar tawny-brown silhouette with the long neck, bright eyes and big ears.

Sometimes we’ve seen deer lying in the deep grass.

Once we saw a dozen standing along a tall bluff.

It’s always thrilling to see wildlife in the wild—where they belong and we don’t. It’s a privilege I never take for granted and indeed, it doesn’t always happen. This morning, for instance, I keep searching for deer and never see one.

At the end of the trip, my husband comments, “The trees are really beautiful, all the new buds.”

But I didn’t even see the trees for the deer that wasn’t there.