Dan Conradt: Deer feeding time at the bird feeder
The sun had just dipped below the horizon, painting the bottoms of billowy clouds with oranges and pinks.
We sat at the window and waited.
Wisps of fog had formed over the rolling hills that stretched down to the river.
"Here they come!" Steven said.
They arrived as a ripple in the six foot stands of bluestem that had dried to a golden brown in preparation for the winter. It was the perfect camouflage.
One by one the deer stepped out of the prairie grass and into the back yard.
They looked around cautiously, as they had for each of the last half dozen nights, then moved out of the protection of the tall grass.
By the time the bluestem stopped waving there were a dozen deer gathered around the bird feeder. We sat ten feet away on the other side of the living room window. The shadows that filled the corners of the room were outlined in warm pastels.
"There's the big one!" Steven said.
A buck showing the first hint of antlers stepped out of the herd. He was clearly the boss.
He approached the bird feeder I'd stocked with another 10 pounds of seed that morning. The feeder had again been left empty by their visit the night before.
The buck shouldered his way past the other deer, then raised his head and began tapping his snout on the cover that was designed to keep the squirrels out of the feeder.
It was more effective on squirrels than it was on deer.
Gathered for a meal
Even through the window we could hear the clacking of metal on metal, and bird seed began raining to the ground.
The deer gathered in a circle around the base of the feeder and started eating the seed off the ground; it was a mixture of all the things wild birds like, but it was the cracked corn that apparently attracted the deer.
Still, they didn't leave much behind, and whatever remained on the ground would be eaten by the birds.
Two tiny fawns that had only recently lost their white spots broke away from the herd and scampered into the field. One would crouch behind a stand of tall grass, then jump out at the other. They'd scramble through the grass and chase each other in circles on legs that looked too fragile for frolicking, then play the hiding game all over again.
Youngsters are youngsters, whether they're deer or children.
A doe divided her attention between eating bird seed and keeping a protective eye her young.
The oranges and pinks faded from the sky, and we'd reached what the French call l'heure bleue… that twilight point that is neither light nor dark, but the best of both.
Somewhere in the neighborhood a dog barked, and a dozen tawny heads popped up.
The fawns stopped their game and inched back to the safety of the herd.
And then they were gone
There was a second bark, and the deer bolted for the protection of the trees, following a faint trail they'd created over the last six nights. Twelve white tails flashed through the grass, and winked out in the growing darkness.
A finger of fog settled over the top of the bluestem, which stopped waving and grew still.
"Do you think they'll come back tomorrow night?" Steven asked as we sat in the near-dark.
"I hope so," I said.
In the last moment of the blue hour there was a final glimpse of white, and a tendril of fog slid aside long enough to reveal a three day old moon that added a silver smile to the western sky.
And I reminded myself to refill the bird feeder in the morning.
Dan Conradt, a lifelong Mower County resident, lives in Austin with his wife, Carla Johnson, and their son.