Roe deer

Walkers in the countryside will be familiar with the incidents that befall wildlife; nature can be cruel, as every countryman or woman knows. This tale has a happy end. We were walking across fields, passing a thick covert of woodland, when a young Roe Deer leapt in front of us and galloped over the grass towards the road, clearly spooked by our presence. It then seemed to disappear and we wondered where it could have gone. Five minutes later, by now walking along North Breache Lane, we heard scuffling in the hedge and saw that the deer was trapped in the mesh of a fence. Every effort it made worsened the situation, as the animal became more panicked. Jackie said that it would soon disentangle itself and we should wait further down the road, so that it might calm down. So we went a bit further on but it became clear that it was still stuck; I decided I had to do something, although I confess I had no idea how I was going to free a frightened, kicking animal. It could not be left and so I started to cross the ditch to get to the deer. It was wonderful to be so close to such a beautiful, gentle looking creature. My main thoughts were, however, not aesthetic at the time and I was not sure how it would react to me being so close. As I got near the animal, miraculously, it struggled free of the wire, fell into the ditch, righted itself and dashed away down the road, as right as rain.

I have seen several Roes in the last few weeks. They favour woodland with open glades and so the countryside near Ewhurst provides ideal habitat for them. They have a nut brown coat in the summer and tend to move about in small family groups. Today we saw a pair in Upper Canfold Wood and it is possible they have fawns, as these are born in May or June. If we are very lucky we may get a sighting in a little while. It is a good time of the year for the young as the tree canopy has visibly thickened, allowing them to be hidden in the underwood. The deer tend to be nocturnal and quite secretive but disturbance will allow sightings in the day. One strange biological feature of Roe Deer gestation is the delayed implantation of the embryo. The rut takes place in July and August, yet after the earliest stages of development the growth of the embryos stops and gestation is suspended for several months. Scientists are not certain what benefit this has but it could be to delay the birth to after the harshest winter months. If you want to show off at the dinner table, this is called embryonic diapause.

Roe Deer have long been the victims of huntsmen; Robert Graves in his anatomy of the origins of poetry, ‘The White Goddess’ asks, ‘how many kings in how many fairy tales have not chased this beast through enchanted forests and been cheated of their quarry? The Roebucks poetic meaning is ‘Hide the Secret.’ Watching Roe’s nimbly canter into the depths of the woods, disappearing mysteriously through glades, one can see how they might be tempting us humans to discover some lost secret of the forest. It may also be this unattainability that led to Elizabethan poets comparing them to unreachable mistresses, punning on ‘deer’ and ‘dearest’. Sir Thomas Wyatt, the poet courtier who was suspected of being one of Anne Boleyn’s hapless lovers, was fond of this pun, capturing his misery and estrangement in the following woebegone lines:

Banished am I, remediless,
To wilderness alone,
Alone to sigh and moan
And of relief all comfortless
And all for your love, my dear.’

Thomas Wyatt, Song CCLXI

A couple of verses later he makes the analogy very clear,

And when the deer draw to the green,
Makes me think on a roe:
How I have seen ye go
Above the fairest, fairest beseen!
And all for your love, my dear.’

They certainly knew how to charm a lady in those days, even if they did risk losing their heads.

(Picture: CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=112551)

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