Betty Schaaf mug

Roman Betty Schaaf is a volunteer, a writer, a sojourner and a self-described wellness addict.

Nature calls to us so often with exuberant flair, and offers us wisdom about cycles of life, longevity and love. This past week I was sent powerful messages through a beautiful, aging, white-tailed deer that I named “Christmas” that recently had become a regular visitor to our lives. This peaceful creature touched my heart so much that I felt I needed to share his story today.

I first spied this large, bony buck in my backyard laying in the soft pine straw. He attempted several times to get up but was having a hard time doing so. He was so lean, and he didn’t like putting pressure on his back legs to walk. I felt the urge to feed him, so off I went to gather intel on this fascinating creature who was allowing me to get so close. It became apparent that “Christmas” was elderly and quite possibly starving, so I set about this project with zeal. I did this by getting “Christmas” all of his favorite foods, strategically placing deer delicacies throughout the yard, including two heavy salt licks. I set oats in bowls, scattered fresh radishes and their greens throughout the yard, scattered piles of deer corn and alfalfa. He left most of it untouched. My alarm and anxiety grew as I realized that perhaps I would not be able to rescue this beautiful and age-stricken deer.

He started lying down in my front garden under the awning of my bedroom window to get out of the rain. I was amazed at how smart this animal was. Mother Nature through Christmas was teaching me that I had to let go and let God once again as I stared at him shivering in the rain and cold. I knew I had no control over whether Christmas lived or died and I didn’t like it one bit. The next day he came to my garden again under the window covering of my bedroom at dusk and watched me unload my holiday groceries. I carried on a quiet conversation with this wild animal only 10 feet from me while I was coming and going out of the house. I am not sure who thought I was crazier, me or Christmas, perhaps both or anyone else that might have been within earshot. His ears never flinched and stayed down throughout our entire relationship. His ears should have been up and continuously moving, detecting danger. I concluded that most likely, he was hard of hearing or comfortable with my quiet gurglings of encouragement, words and sounds that only a mother could understand. The day after that, I saw him peacefully sitting in our front yard out in the open. Several hours later, I had found him lying next to the side of the house in the soft bark as before, but this time, with his head down against the bark. I watched helplessly as his life ebbed away not two feet from me. I found I didn’t like that feeling either.

Christmas died in our yard just five days before Christmas. I was deeply saddened at his passing, tears flowed and I found it very difficult to see the cookies I was trying to create. But Christmas came to teach me a few things. That grief and loss are always present and part of our lives. Our time here on planet earth is extremely brief, and it is what we do with our time which defines our life in impacting others. Christmas reminded me that we all have a predetermined lifespan as he did, and we do not have control over many things.

When I examined Christmas up close after I was sure that he had gone to the heavenlies, I saw that his mouth was slightly agape, as if he was exhaling or saying goodbye, his tongue seeping out of his mouth. His large, black eyes were beautiful but lacking the life that I had seen earlier. He had the longest, most beautiful eyelashes I had ever witnessed before, and his coat was soft, a greyish brown. Most of his bones made sharp, vertical lines along his body, showing his lack of nourishment, and his belly was extended and bright white.

The Department of Fish and Game shared with us that most likely he didn’t need to be tested for disease and that age and starvation were the cause of his demise. They suggested returning Christmas back to the wild to be food for others. There again was another valuable lesson — he was giving back in a world where food insecurity was as rampant as his predators. We gave him a respectful ride into our woods on the back of a four-wheeler and gently placed Christmas in the deep leaves, said goodbye with a prayer of thanks and for our lessons in longevity and love and the adventure of Christmas at Christmas.

Roman Betty Schaaf is a volunteer, a writer, a sojourner and a self-described wellness addict. Betty Schaaf’s email is bettyannschaaf@gmail.com.