||May 2, 2003
The deer left to die
In a previous article on Mattawašs outstanding
painter Gordon Dufoe I called him a renaissance man because of the many things
he did besides painting. When I became interested in him in the late 90s I was
told he had purchased a typewriter in the 1930s and had written a book about his
experiences during his many years working in the bush.
I saw the unpublished book with its beautiful illustrations and moving animal
stories and poems.
I was pleased when the Dufoe family worked with the Highway Book Shop in
Cobalt to publish the book in 1993. I have read the book several times during
the years and given it as a gift.
I thought the readers of Community Voices might be interested in an abridged
sample of his writing and drawing. The brief story is called The Deer Left to
Die. The book is called Canadian Animals I Have Known: True Tales of the Woods.
The book, like Grey Owl's work of the same era is just as touching today as it
was decades ago.
The Deer Left to Die
I had been following a stream which was almost hidden by the deep snow and
only through openings among the trees could I see where the creek-bed was.
Even the many little falls were so completely snowed in I would pass them by
About noon I began to watch for a place where I might be able to get water
for tea, but the sun was on the way west before I got a break when I spied a
cave-in of snow a short distance ahead.
I was beginning to grow quite hungry and decided I had better have my lunch.
In a short while I had a crackling fire going, then with an axe and tea-pail I
headed for the break in the snow.
On reaching the cave-in, I was surprised to find there was a deer at the
bottom of the hole, which was about eight or nine feet deep and six or seven
The walls around the deer proved he had been there for days and he gave
abundant proof of his sojourn as his bones were almost cutting his hide. He was
indeed a hungry deer.
All he had been able to secure in the line of food were the little twigs
which he could reach over the icy wall. To make matters worse he was unable to
rest, as he had been standing in a foot of water and great discs of ice had
formed around each leg.
|Here was a poor deer badly in need of help. Every minute I expected to
see him fall and he carried down the stream beneath the ice, as his only
support now was his legs which had long since become weak.
With the aid of my snow-shoes and axe, I managed to remove enough of
the bank of snow to enable me to get down to where the deer was.
I placed beside him two long pieces of poplar on which to stand. My
next job was to remove the icy bracelets from his legs and in order to
maintain my balance while doing so, I had to place one hand on his
I placed beside him two long pieces of poplar on which to stand. My next job
was to remove the icy bracelets from his legs and in order to maintain my
balance while doing so, I had to place one hand on his back.
He didn't resist my touch, seeming to have lost all interest and to be
standing there in a daze.
He paid no attention whatever to me as I worked around him. I began to remove
the ice from his slender limbs with my axe.
This was a delicate job, as the axe was razor-sharp. Sometimes fair-sized
pieces of ice would fall away and be carried down the stream, while other pieces
would bring with them some of the hair from his legs.
While working I had seen, dashing away, several brook trout which had been
utilizing the discs of ice as shelter.
After removing as much of the ice as possible from the deeršs legs, I was
faced with the task of getting him out of the hole.
As I was tying my pack-strap around his body, he slowly turned his head to
watch me. This was the first time he had shown any sign of life.
He didnšt seem to mind the pack-strap being placed about him as he kept his
gaze on me and I would not even venture to describe his expression as he watched
With considerable difficulty, I finally got the deer turned to face the
cut-away I had made in the bank. Although he made a valiant effort, he was of
little help to me, nor did I blame the poor fellow as his legs had become so
numb he was unable to bend them.
With the aid of the pack-strap and one arm around his body, we finally
succeeded in gaining the top of the slope.
As I was getting a bundle of the tender tops from a young birch, the deer
stood watching me and tried to come toward me, but was unable to do so.
In a very few minutes he was a different deer altogether and while I sat on
my snow-shoes in Indian fashion, he was eating the twigs from my hand.
The ears which had been hanging downward were now up and forward and there
was in his eyes an expression that had not been there before.
He was also changed in another way too, having lost that fear of man which
had always possessed him. I felled several birches and drew the smaller ones to
within easy reach of him.
I had lost all track of time and only when I noticed that the sun had almost
gone down did I realize I would have to spend the night in the open.
Several times during the night, by the light from my fire, I could see the
deer as he moved about among the birch tops I had fallen for him.
Before starting back to camp next morning, I felled more trees and I know the
deer did not like to see me leave as he did not take his eyes from me until I
had passed out of sight.
On reaching camp that morning, I found my pal had gone out for the day.
We did not meet until evening and while having a late lunch, I was asked
where I had spent the previous night.
I related my experience with regard to finding the deer and went on to say I
thought that particular deer had lost all fear of man and, unless he had a very
poor memory, would not likely regain it, at least for a while I had occasion to
regret having made such a statement, as then and afterwards my partner made a
joke of it.
On future trips together whenever we would see the flag of some deer
disappearing over a ridge or taking cover in the thick brush of a swamp, he
would say, "Therešs your deer and he isn't afraid at all."
While travelling across country the next fall, we hit the same creek farther
up and followed it downstream towards camp.
It was an entirely different stream when the ground was bare and there was
plenty of water flowing over the many falls.
I watched all along for any sign that would reveal I had reached the place
where I had spent the night by the open fire.
We were almost past when I noticed the tall stumps of the trees I had felled
when the snow was so deep, although the trees themselves had apparently been
carried away by the spring flood. In a few minutes we had located the charred
wood of the old fire place.
I happened to mention that there were
"speckles" in the stream and immediately there was a rush for
tackle. Our flies would scarcely touch the surface before being seized and
carried into the churning waters at the foot of the falls.
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