Inspiration for the photograph,
The Encounter

That summer, I left the dry steamy sidewalks of New York to visit my brother in the mountains of West Virginia. It was my favorite time in the Appalachian valley—the smell of heavy morning mist and wet dirt at the crack of dawn, and the sight of deer wandering down the mountain to munch on pine trees next to my brother’s house.

Over breakfast that first morning, my brother said to me, “There’s a fawn up the hill back behind the house. The farmer down the road found it and said some poacher had shot the mother out of season. The farmer’s trying to keep the baby away from stray dogs. He said the dogs will run it down and kill it, because the deer’s tame enough to pet.”

I dropped my toast, rushed out the back door and climbed the hill as fast as I could.

And there it was, twenty feet in front of me, a baby fawn standing in a shelter of trees. It was straining to reach some red raspberries on a branch over its head.

I tiptoed close, until I could see the individual white spots covering its little body. It shook, still unsteady on its feet. I’d never been this close to a deer before.

I slid my foot forward. Dried leaves crunched under my feet.

The fawn’s ears swirled toward me. Then it froze.

I stopped and tried to make my voice mimic the sound of running water. “I wonder if I could just talk to you.”

The deer’s ears twitched nervously.

“My name’s Toby,” I said.

The deer inched back.

Its wide brown eyes shifted right, left.

“I’ve never been with a wild animal before, except in a zoo,” I said.

The deer’s hair, thin and prickly, shivered up and down its back.

I edged closer.

A smell of hay mixed with wet fur waft through the air.

“My brother said you were all alone,” I went on.

Its frightened eyes fixed on me.

I stopped moving. I was looking at the deer and it was looking at me. I felt like I was staring into a pond of water. A deep dark pond where only mosquitoes and guppies knew how to have a meaningful conversation.

My stomach tightened. I saw the blood. Lumps of dried blood clung to the fawn’s nose where it must have tried to nuzzle into its wounded mother. My brother’s words rumbled through me, “The farmer’s afraid the dogs will run it down….”

I stepped closer. The fawn trembled. I wanted to hold it in my arms and protect it. I leaned forward and kissed the deer on the forehead.

It didn’t move.

Slivers of hay rubbed against my chin. Then I felt its breath on my neck. A thin warm touch of air against my skin.

The fawn leaned into me and pressed its forehead against my mouth. As its frail body trembled, goose bumps shivered up my arms. For seconds my head locked together with the baby. We were breathing, together, and I thought, “This must be the holy world.”