Wild moment: Bill BadgerPublished: 15th February 2016
"The calf was spots, patterns, a hundred browns – as still as death in its newly sprung life..."
Duncan Mcleod has been a crofter here for nearly 60 years. He tells me had never seen one. He would have had eyes for other things of course, but he is certain to have passed near.
We passed near, so near that I had my foot beside it before I saw it – a patterned rock in an open heathered landscape, an irregularity in the land underfoot.
Even as I stepped I called out. The others were stopped by my urgency and I pointed. They saw nothing but the rock until I insisted they look more. Four of us voiceless around the shape amongst the heather, none of us more than four feet away.
We had had a glorious spring day among the caves and burns in the wild land beyond Knockan Crag with Quinaig always there before us. We were reaching that point where ‘getting back’ starts to become attractive. The going was rough and we had a couple of miles to go but the red deer calf electrified us. No-one moved. It was curled beside a tuft of moor grass, upright and its eyes reflecting brown. We stared, and the calf looked through us - not a blink, not a twitch, not a breath, the whole scene still.
The calf was spots, patterns, a hundred browns – as still as death in its newly sprung life. For a while we were as still as the calf but we had to move – little unspoken moves away as each of us realised that the calf would make no move.
Step by step we backed away. We were under its spell – such a power of vulnerability, such a perfect response to our threat. We regrouped and moved on without speaking. No-one looked back, no-one tried to explain. We knew we’d stumbled on a tiny miracle – no words would do it – all was well.
At home, later, we wondered where the mother would have been. This was not a place where she would have expected humans. She obviously trusted her calf’s instincts. The land was open and flat. She could not have been less than a quarter of a mile away. She would have seen us surely?
In 1952 Richard Perry sat down with such a calf and told of it in his wonderful The Watcher and the Red Deer. Where we backed away Perry sat and stroked the calf with a handful of fir moss, but he would have known these creatures in a way we could never reach: “Speckled with white flecks and a woolly copper tail – the lashes of the dark brown eyes an inch in length, generations of breeding perfection in every line”.
Fearless symmetry? Weren’t we lucky?