Today's For the BIrds program:
I was home in Duluth for a few days last month, on either end of spending a week in Eagle River, Wisconsin. It coincided with the time of year when fawns are born, and as we were packing my stuff, I told Russ that more than any other thing, I was hoping to get a chance to see and photograph a newborn fawn that week. Minutes later while we loaded the car, my neighbor walked by and said there was a fawn in her backyard. We zipped over there and voila! I’ve posted a few photos of it on my flickr page, and one is up on my Twin Beaks blog.
There is something exquisitely innocent and sweet about a tiny fawn. If I hadn’t needed to get on the road, I’d have spent hours there, mesmerized by the tiny thing curled up in the lawn. As long as you keep a respectful distance, fawns are fearless. Their mother told them to stay put, so they do, trusting in cryptic coloration and a benevolent universe. And at this point, the universe is indeed benevolent for them. A great many are killed every year during hunting season, and too many are killed on highways, but the fact that their numbers remain so very high is testament to how easy their lives actually are right now. Two and a half decades ago I found my own babies even more mesmerizing than this fawn. I stared at them for hours, days, weeks, months, taking endless photos and marveling that such innocence and sweetness could exist on this planet.
Babies and fawns are alike in the way that the sight of them elicits a surge of protectiveness in most of us. We nurture both till they’re on their own, and then we complain, with as much justification as we had when we were nurturing them, that there are too many of their kind on the planet. That fawn is fed on milk that was formed within the doe’s body, fueled by native plants that become increasingly scarce as the invasive exotic weeds that deer shun grow ever more pervasive. My babies were fed on milk produced from the food I ate—vegetables grown on endless acres of farm fields that choked habitat and oozed with pesticides and fertilizers that worked their way into water supplies and up the food chain to contaminate food supplies. At the time the conservative Nixon administration banned DDT in the United States, the pesticide was not just wiping out Bald Eagles and Peregrine Falcons—it was contaminating mother’s milk.
Looking at the tiny fawn curled up on the lawn, waiting patiently for its mother’s warmth and nourishment, trusting implicitly in this benevolent universe, I realized that too much of a good thing is still a good thing. But it isn’t enough to feel protectiveness and warmth toward a fawn or baby—we must act on it. These helpless beings trust in adults to keep the universe benevolent—overflowing with biodiversity, clean water and air, birdsong, peaceful relationships with our neighbors, to sustain them throughout that life so filled with promise. We can’t think this through as if we ourselves were still children—we must remember the harsh realities of predation, disease, and death. Love without commitment isn’t mature love, and those of us moved to protect babies of all kinds must be mature and thoughtful—to learn what exactly are the problems these tiny beings will face, and to use our minds and hearts and labor to solve them in as humane and gentle but committed a way as is humanly possible, to make this world we share truly sustainable for all the babies among us, and for their children and their children’s children. We’re not all of us rocket scientists. But we are supposed to be the smartest species on the planet—it’s up to us to justify that trust we see in the eyes of babies and fawns.