Deleted from my upcoming novel, The Queen’s Rain (third book in the After Ever After trilogy):
Impressions of a Fawn--
If I lie very still, like nothing, I will be safe. I will live.
My legs fold tight and flat; I collapse down so low, I am the ground. I am like the frog or the crocodile who watches from the water—I see, but am not seen. I sense, but am not sensed.
Between my ears like long, cupped hands, I feel the wind open me in a joy of understanding. I hear the dead leaves clicking point to point, each day releasing one more mote of dust like an offering to the cold soil. Even the sun makes a sound, drying them. Underneath me, beneath the lowest leaf, a salamander pads tiny, starred footprints. He’s curved like a crescent moon, and each time he steps, he flips the moon. Walking in the shape of a snake.
His skin is just like water, so unprotected even he can’t feel it. Like the surface of an eye—that smooth, that helpless. Everything goes right through it. But he’s hidden in the silence of the under-leaves, where the wet keeps him. Where thoughts cannot reach. He’s hungry, and he eats quick, armored, animal things, things that crunch when he snaps them in his silky little jaws.
A fox—he doesn’t walk, he only goes by running—traces the ground with his nose. He has an idea of me, he is trying to scent me, but it is I who scent him. I scent the plumes of scent from his busy, hot, smoky tail, and I scent how the spongy fungus grips tighter the rich, rotting base of the dying tree he passes, and I scent the pulse of the birds as they burst scared from a nest there, hearts pattering, and I scent the goo the snail leaves on a twig that hangs just above my nose, an ancient smell, a smell from the beginning of the world. I know these scents. These scents, someday, shall be my memories. They are my soul.
Snake, I know you. Her head like an arrow, she inserts her interest between these two layers of leaves, into this hole and out of that one, around the corner of that tree, down the dry path of that streambed whose deeps I hear the wind tickling and the sun cracking open. She inserts her head and the river of her body follows, curve after reversing curve, not the way legs walk forward and onward but the way hips swing side to side like laughter—this and also that, that and also this. I hear her, I hear the shape of the ground and how it moves. The shape of the earth and how it swims. Below the snake, inside the earth (though snake can tunnel there too—there is nowhere she cannot enter), some round, warm mother quivers in some cold, packed chamber, wiggles her nose, her haunches, into her nest of down and grass and someone else’s fur, pops her babies out in tiny globules of tightly sacked fat, blood, and bone, nibbles their tiny heads, licks their closed eyes.
Some great field opens near me. I feel it open to the wind between my ears. I smell its careless sunlight, too much sunlight for the grasses to drink and so it floods the air and smells like gold.
How can I sense this dragonfly? How do I know she is rising like vapor from the muck around the field? Her whirring wings make no sound. They seem like a stillness, like me invisible and transparent, yet they lift her high. How do I know? I see her. I see her sitting high on the air, now sliding straight sideways, now elevating, now sinking, now zoom. She comes sudden. Everything she does is impossible. Does she see me, in her globes of many eyes? She sees only droplets of me, mingled with droplets of the world when the world began.
Some things I have been seeing all this time but not believing. Some things I have been hearing forever but have not noticed. How long has that bird been singing so high above me, I cannot imagine its color? How long have I not known its name?
I don’t know the color of the bird but I know the color of the song. Every shade of blue. Notes of color I’ve never known and yet remember. Merciless, the bird sings on, tugs me by the heart, drags me up into the world--
Why did I delete this section? Because I’d written the same story many times. Here’s something personal about me, which made it into my first novel (Beauty), too: When I was a little girl, I used to believe I really was a fawn. I felt so certain of this, I felt I was communing with deer wherever I went, and I used to daydream about the relief I would feel when I somehow managed to transform into this creature which I truly was, and people could see me at last for myself.
The fawn is stillness, familiar to me, the shyness of my childhood. Meditating comes easily to me and I am still so introverted, so inward, with the world so infinite within me, I am more comfortable listening—watching the wheels go round, feeling with all my body and mind the wonders of other lives whirling round me—than speaking. To me, that’s being a writer. It’s when I am alone in the mystery, like the scentless, invisible fawn disappearing into the forest, that I feel closest to my version of God. That is the witnessing.
But in this trilogy, which is about female sovereignty, I was writing about growing up. I was writing about womanhood, the heroine’s journey. One of the queens in my story morphs into and out of the form of a doe. And in this blog post, in honor of this season which is my birth season (and the birth season of fawns and most other beings), and in honor of having just completed my trilogy, I’d like to explore with you this more personal animal symbol—my totem animal, perhaps. Deer. How can we mature in this particular kind of feminine way, into grace, into gentleness, into community?
She is my animal, yet I am still a child when it comes to really living her ways.
I would like to be able to trust my own fleetness, my ability to survive not only by freezing still but by sensing accurately, responding, and acting. My knowing of how to find what I need, my discernment in the dark between what is dangerous and what isn’t—so I don’t have to live in the tension of constant anxiety, but instead use fear wisely, when needed. I would like to walk with such grace, which comes from knowing a place so intimately I belong to it, a knowing that arises from that silent, whole-body listening. I would like to know that my belly can be trusted to seek out the right nourishment in the right season, and that the earth will provide it. I would like to learn the grace of surrendering to what is necessary, of becoming the gift when the gift is called for, of becoming part of the whole and letting myself go.
Even the stags live this wisdom of surrender. They are the heroes of myth, that rise with the summer and drop their antlers in sacrifice each winter. Trees grow out of their heads. They fight epic battles, but the nobility of trees is in them, and their heroism is cyclical, it is bound by nature’s laws.
I would like to think in community, not always as a lone entity. I don’t have to depend only on myself to watch for danger. In my web of relationship, I have a hundred eyes and ears. We speak of herd mentality like its only meaning is stupidity. But what does it mean to learn intuition through the eyes and ears of those known to us, to sense deeper and further, in more nuanced layers, because of one’s interconnectedness, one’s trust in the differing awareness of many? One member of the herd can hear a difference in footsteps a half-mile off. Another can be trusted to find the very first shoots in early spring. Another has a sharper sense of smell when she’s pregnant. Another’s mood shifts when the stags come around. There isn’t any kind of judgment. But everyone understands everyone else’s perception, and by this unspoken empathy, survives.
A doe is the ultimate prey animal; she is absolute fear, and yet her grace shows she is absolute trust. Here is a paradox I would like to live out somehow: to live with the awareness of death constantly present, all the time, and to be so alive, so precious. So that awareness is not oppressive in its terror, but beautiful. To be beloved by every predator. To be the spirit of the forest. To be love itself.
Happy slightly belated Spring Equinox, friends! We listen through each other’s ears and sense through each other’s senses. If you also have thoughts about how to live with such beauty and grace in these times, my fellow deer, I would love to read them--Post comments! Let us learn from each other and our animal community.