DEATH OF A DEER: A True L.A. Story
by Francois Mazure


A deer. A young female. Hit by a car near the Foundation, on one of these scenic, canyon-hugging Malibu roads. The vehicle had broken her two front legs. The wounded deer hobbled back into the wild and disappeared into the night. What intense suffering it must have endured during that night.

In the morning someone found her by the road and called the Wildlife Emergency Response people. Three of them came but could not catch her. Thrashing wildly, propelling herself as best she could, even using her belly and her neck, she would somehow remain just out of reach.

Eventually the Wildlife people gave up. It was too unbearable. They would have needed a stun gun to immobilize the deer, but they didn't have one. Someone called a deputy sheriff to shoot her. Apparently he had shot wounded deer before, but he wasn't available that day. Finally nothing was resolved.

After they left, we had a long and heated discussion at the Foundation about what should be done. My friend Atossa kept saying "She is in terrible pain. We must do something quick". Everybody agreed on that, but what should we do? Can she be saved? The consensus was no.

"Then she has to be shot." someone said. A long silence followed. We all felt uneasy. Even if it was to put the little deer out of her misery, no one amongst us liked the idea of shooting her. And, more practically, none of us had a gun.

The phone rang. It was the SPCA. We had called them earlier. They said the Sheriff was sending "Fish and Game" people our way to "take care of it". So we waited for the Fish and Game people. But they never showed up.

Atossa had a pair of binoculars. I took them and went outside towards the ravine. I sat on the edge and scanned the area where the deer had last disappeared. After a long time I saw her. She was lying in the shade of a sumac bush at the edge of a small rocky ledge, totally motionless. She flicked her ears from time to time.

I marvelled how invisible she was, lying there under the bush at mid-slope, perfectly camouflaged by her coat, at one with nature, beautiful and apparently serene, showing nothing of the unbearable pain she must be feeling. Suddenly I could not bear the idea that such a beautiful animal had to die, and I felt tears filling my eyes.

Later on, I tried to locate the doe again, but she must have moved, and I couln't see her anywhere. During the evening I kept thinking: I hope the coyotes don't find her tonight.

At first light the next morning I took the binoculars and went to the edge of the ravine. I saw her immediately. Incredibly, she had managed during the night to get down the ledge and further down the canyon without killing herself. Now she was lying at the very bottom of the ravine, resting against a rock, in the position of the sphinx, flicking her ears.

Somehow I felt that now she would not try to escape if I went to her. I filled a canteen with fresh water, grabbed an old cotton blanket, two fistfulls of grass that I ripped from the Foundation's lawn, and made my way to the bottom of the cliff.

The little deer didn't move when I approached her. What struck me then was her immense dignity. I approached her slowly and respectfully, sending out as best as I could strong feelings of love and kinship. I told her wordlessy that I loved her, and that I would do my utmost to help her. She let me sit next to her. There was just enough room for the two of us. Her broken legs were invisible under her.

After a while I tried to give her some water but she wouldn't drink it. She also refused the fresh grass I had cut for her. But she let me pat her head and softly stroke her graceful neck. I had the feeling she enjoyed the companionship and was relieved not to be alone anymore. I really felt a strong bond uniting us at that moment.

After she refused food and water again, several times, I suddendly understood why, and it broke my heart. The little deer had decided it was time to die. She had a deep narrow wound on her chest and a large ugly bruise on her flank. She had tried her very best, with an indomitable courage. But with her wounds and two broken legs -- she had moved an inch or two and I could see them a little now, horribly twisted under her -- she knew she couldn't go on any longer. Somehow she understood her days on this beautiful planet were over. She had fought bravely for two nights and one day, and now it was time to let go.

So I just sat down next to her, with my useless grass and water, and I cried with her and for her. She was young and maybe she still had a mother who was wondering about her child, somewhere in the hills. I cried for all the deer killed every year by heartless hunters. I cried for all the animals run over by cars. I cried also for all the animals sacrificed to serve our gross prides and appetites, and all those martyred in laboratory experiments.

I cried for the savage nature of man, and I asked the little deer for forgiveness. I wrapped her gently in the blanket I had brought and she didn't move. I was humbled by the absolute calm and dignity with which she accepted her fate.

Atossa woke me up from my trance. She had seen us from the top of the ravine and she climbed down to where we were. Atossa's heart also was broken when she saw the doe. She knelt next to her head and lightly stroked it. The doe looked at her with her big brown eyes, without fear or alarm, just great sadness and resignation. There are moments when animals and humans can be totally aligned in feeling, and where a perfect channel of communication magically opens across the chasm of the species. It was such a moment that Atossa and I shared with the wounded doe.

"Maybe we can still save her; I'll go and get help", Atossa said suddenly. She scrambled up the ravine and disappeared from sight. Shortly after the little deer let out a small sigh and let her head slowly fall to the ground. She half closed her eyes and started shivering. Wrapping the blanket a little more tightly around her I whispered in her ear: "Hey, little deer, don't go now. Hang on. Be strong. Help is on its way".

But her Death was calling her strongly, tired of waiting. The deer rested her head against my hand and had another sigh, then another one, stronger. She had entered her time of agony. It was too late to save her. Maybe it had always been too late.

Another moment and the little deer was dead. She was at peace. At last.

Sweet little doe. Your big brown eyes will never see the blue skies of California again. You will never roam in your beautiful hills anymore. Never smell the fragrant perfume of the wild flowers in the spring. Never dance with your friends in the canyons on nights of the full moon.

Shortly after, Atossa came back with several friends. At their head was Andrew, the CEO of our Foundation. We all sat down to decide what to do next, Andrew and the three friends he had brought Shiva, James, Annie, and Atossa and I. Andrew said: "Now that she is dead, the coyotes should have her. They should feast on her tonight. It will be a dignified way for her to be reintroduced in the cycle of creation. I know a place in the mountains where the coyotes meet every night; let's take her there". Then Annie said: "We should give her a proper funeral" and everyone agreed. Atossa went to get a candle and some sage, and Annie and Shiva gathered a bundle of wild flowers.

We took the deer to the spot Andrew knew. There we were, five of us carrying a dead deer in a blanket and Annie, who had a sprained ankle, walking behind, carrying in her arms a splendid bunch of wild flowers and crimson bouganvilleas. Flowers for the funeral. Hawks were circling overhead in the clear Californian sky. Metallic grey lizards, unhappy to be disturbed in their kingdom, were scurrying under our feet.

I kept wandering what "normal" people would have done in our situation. Most probably they would have looked in the Yellow Pages and called the local "Dead Animal Disposal Service". Why were we so intent, then, in giving the deer a "proper funeral", as Annie had said. I was looking at Shiva's arms and back in front of me. Her taut yoga teacher muscles were ripling under her leotard as she was pulling her side of the blanket over the rocky path. It was obvious from her powerful moves and calm intensity that nobody and nothing was going to stop her from accomplishing the mission she had given herself.

Why did we all want to honor the little deer that much? Because we all felt, maybe, that she was in fact a little sister for all of us, that she represented a part of ourselves, and that as we grieved for her, we grieved for us all as well.

But more than anything, I think the six of us all understood that the little deer was our teacher; that her innate gentleness, her dignity and especially her stupendous courage were models for all of us to learn from.

Not too long ago in our human history, men and women knew how to learn from wild animals, who were perceived as guides and teachers and shamans all over the world used animal spirits as guides. Sadly these practices have all but disappeared...

Andrew said: "Lets keep moving, there are new houses behind that hill, and the coyotes won't come here". It's true: new houses are popping up all over the Santa Monica Mountains these days and the land is being graded and for future construction. As our strange procession was making its way up the hill, I kept asking myself: has the relentless greed of the developers and the surge in population doomed these beautiful hills forever? Is there no hope at all?

Looking from above at the houses, it's hard not to see them as some kind of plague afflicting the hills. Are humans then just a skin disease of the Earth, maybe a skin cancer even? On more and more of the planet, it certainly looks that way... When will the madness stop? When will we learn?...

Finally, we reached the place Andrew had chosen. Andrew and James laid her carefully on the blanket and Annie covered her body with flowers. Shiva lit up a bundle of sage. We circled around the litlle deer, and holding hands, we paid our respects in silence, heads bowed. At that moment a sentence I had heard quoted long ago came back to me, "Don't ask for whom the bells toll; they toll for thee!"

Afterwards a prayer came to my head and it went like this:

"Great Spirit who rules over all things, great and small,
And over all creatures, great and small,
Give your blessings to that little deer who died for our sins.
And bless us too, your wayward children
And make us see the light, Amen."


I felt that the Great Spirit was hearing us, and was releasing the spirit of the little deer from the prison of her martyred body, and allowing it to soar over the canyon, over the hawks that were patiently circling in the distance, over the hills and over the whole of the Santa Monica Mountains.

I will walk again in those mountains and in those hills, with my friends or alone, and when I feel a light breeze caressing my face, I will know it is your spirit, sweet little deer, saying "Hi". And that your spirit will never die. And that a part of it will be in my heart. Forever.

Epilogue:
A few days later James told me during one of our community dinners that he had walked that day where we had taken the little deer for her funeral, and that all her remains were gone. "The coyotes have eaten her completely. Or maybe a mountain lion. There is nothing left, just a few tufts of fur. Our friend has returned to nature in a good way. The cycle of her life is complete".