Last week, a deer was found dead in our lake. According to those who've been stewards of this land for more than two decades, this is a first. As resident staff, one of my jobs is to fix things when they break and if I don't have the skills, call on someone who can. In this situation, there is no fixing to be done, there is only watching and waiting.
When my brain started processing the news of a dead deer in the lake, I thought of the deer first and what might have happened. Tennessee has a four month deer hunting season. We don't allow hunting on our land, but the Tennessee Wildlife Management, who are our neighbors to the southwest, do. I figured it might have been wounded on their land and made it as far as our lake before it died. Regardless of the catalyst, I had a situation to take care of and not the slightest idea what to do, so I called the experts.
This past week, I've learned a lot about the nature of deer. Did you know they naturally go to water to die? I also learned there is a disease spreading through the deer population in our area that is transmitted through the bite of a fly. When I talked to one of the wildlife agencies about our situation, she said, "You only have one deer?" I told her yes and she shared she'd just taken a call from a man who had twenty dead deer in his lake...20.
The recommendation by several knowledgeable people was to leave the deer where it was and let nature take its course. There is no danger of the disease spreading to humans or other wildlife and a decomposing deer will not contaminate the lake, in fact, our turtle population seems to be pretty happy about the new food source.
Have you stopped reading yet?
Communion with Creation is an important part of the retreat experience at Penuel Ridge. The lake is a favorite spot for visitors to decompress. It's a beautiful setting surrounded by forest. It is soothing, meditative. A floating deer carcass could cast a pall over an otherwise tranquil visit.
So, I've posted a tasteful sign that reads:
We honor the cycle of life at Penuel Ridge.
Such is the case at our lake, where a young deer has died.
We are letting Nature run its course and offer a prayer
of thanksgiving for the gift of Creation.
People read it, pause and either look at their shoes and thrust their hands in their pockets or head out the front door and down the lake trail. I myself, go every night at sunset and sit shiva. A few nights ago, after sitting by the lake for about 15 minutes, a great blue heron flew low over the lake and landed on the bank to my left. A barn owl started hoo-hoo-hooting high in the trees and slowly moved down one tree at a time until he too was near the bank of the lake. The three of us sat there until the dusk camouflaged us from each other. As darkness folded in around me, I walked back to the place where warm light spills from the windows onto a cool, green lawn.