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In This Place
A Cape Cod Notebook can be heard every Tuesday morning at 8:45am and afternoon at 5:45pm.It's commentary on the unique people, wildlife, and environment of our coastal region.A Cape Cod Notebook commentators include:Robert Finch, a nature writer living in Wellfleet who created, 'A Cape Cod Notebook.' It won the 2006 New England Edward R. Murrow Award for Best Radio Writing.

Deer Dance on the Beach

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Liz Lerner
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“What do deer do?” She asked me one day out of the blue.

“Pardon?”

“I mean, what do they do all day? Where do they go? Do they just hunker down in the woods and wait for dark?”

“Good question” I said. We often see them at dusk, and even more often at night, like the proverbial deer caught in our headlights, but I don’t think they’re strictly nocturnal.”

“But, “she persisted, “I mean we never see them doing anything, though we often see the results of what they do: having grazed our garden or trimmed the lower limbs of spruce trees. And when we do see them in the daytime, they’re usually already moving away from us up a forested slope, having seen us before we see them. Their lovely long necks craned backwards over their shoulders to see if we’re following them. Their ridiculously large white tail flags waving as if encouraging us to follow them, as if their movements were only in reaction to us.

“Sometimes,” she went on, “I come upon their impressions in grass or leaves, where they had bedded down for the night, but never have I come upon any actually bedded down. What do they do, where do they go during the day? I know it would be easy to ask Alexa or Siri, or better yet a deer hunter, who would know their daytime habits better than most, who must study their patterns of movement during the day to be successful in their blood sport, but I’m content just to speculate, if you know what I mean.”

“I know where some deer go during the day,” I said.

“You do? Where?”

“On the beach, the Outer Beach.”

“On the beach - really? When? Where? What were they doing?”

“Well, that’s what’s remarkable. It was five or six years ago. Late one afternoon I drove out to Newcomb Hollow Beach. There was a stiff wind out of the east, and I could feel the cold wind seeping through the layers of my clothing.

I soon outwalked the footprints of those who had last walked the beach before me that day, when I came upon what I first t thought were dog or coyote prints, but the characteristic split-pear prints told me they were deer. Now I have seen deer prints on the Outer Beach before, though never a deer itself, but these were different. There were in fact multiple sets of deer prints, some walking down the beach towards me, then trotting up into the dunes, then coming out onto the beach again. In fact in one place there was a veritable circus of deer prints, hundreds of them crisscrossing, moving together and then breaking apart, forming circles that some would enter and then pull back. I figured the prints had to have been made sometime during the last twelve hours or the tide would have erased them.

Now here’s the thing. There were absolutely no other tracks –no human footprints, no dog tracks, no coyotes, not even sea gulls to account for this commotion of deer prints. Nor did the deer prints seem random. Rather, they seemed to create deliberate designs, half circles, advances and retreats. In fact they reminded me of those painted foot boards they used to use to teach ballroom dancing. Similarly the deer prints formed rhythmic patterns on the beach that forced me to wonder if the deer had been cavorting, prancing, yes, dancing on the beach for their own pleasure - at least that was the most obvious, and most pleasurable explanation. So yes, although it was a deduction rather than personal observation, I had to conclude these were signs that at least once, at midday, deer were dancing on the beach’

“Wow,” she said. “You ought to write that up.”

So I did.