This post is contributed by Coastal Rivers Trustee Barnaby Porter. Read the previous post here.
Barnaby comments, “From today’s climate perspective, this piece is more a reminiscence of times ago. The Damariscotta now remains mostly wide open through the winter.”
Along with the lengthy spell of cold weather that has descended on our woods has come a state of suspended animation. A week-old snowfall remains on the tree boughs. The deep pack lies trackless except around the house and at the foot of the hill where our neighbor, Mr. fox, crosses the road on his daily rounds. The river has ceased to move. Frozen over and covered with clean, windswept snow, it churns deep and dark and out of sight.
From out of the woods on the far shore, three timid forms emerge to stand at the beginning of the frozen expanse between us, to gaze over its distance and to yearn for something on the other side. Three deer, profiled against the depths of mid-winter rising behind them, contemplate an imagined wealth of browse up in my woods.
Hunger is their driver, hope their decision-maker, the frozen river, its strange open stillness, the source of their hesitation. Hunger and hope prevail though, and the three deer negotiate the thick, tilted cakes of ice at the river’s edge and soon find themselves out on it, where they are not at all accustomed to walking. Like children, they curiously explore the newness of their situation, sniffing at the saltwater ice where the wind has swept it clean, testing their footing and perhaps feeling a bit awed by the space around them and the novelty of their circumstance.
After a few minutes they venture forward, out toward the middle of the river where unseen currents swirl and heave just under their pointed, black hooves. The caution in their genes urges them on, not to linger in such a place. But they do not run. In single file, the three walk on, pausing only to lower their heads and smell the changing surface ahead.
Once, something unseen spooks them into a trot for twenty yards, but their caution renews itself. Just in front of them lies what looks like a large patch of rotten ice, weakened and honeycombed by the surging currents beneath. The three deer pause momentarily. They are more than halfway across the river now. My shore, the east shore, with all the lure of its unknown bounty, must seem very close. They look about, upriver and down. One deer turns and looks back over the route they have come, but the largest of the three, who appears to have shed his antlers, starts forward once more, and the others follow. They skirt the dark ice (much closer than I would have done), which they somehow recognize as menacing. And then, soon, they are faced with the reality of a new shore, more ice cakes jumbled by the tide and a steep bank, deep in snow.
I watch as the three make their way through the heaped, massive cakes, slipping and sliding, and gain the land. And then, with no hesitation, their strong haunches propel them up the bank overhung by low pine branches, and they disappear in a cascading cloud of powdery snow loosed by their arrival in my quiet woods.
Artist and author Barnaby Porter has had a varied career in marine research, aquaculture, and woodworking, among others. Most recently he partnered with his wife Susan as co-owners of the Maine Coast Book Shop & Cafe in downtown Damariscotta. Barnaby currently serves on Coastal Rivers’ Board of Trustees. For more about Barnaby, click here.
Deer crossing ice photo by Jennifer Aitkens. River photos courtesy of Barnaby Porter.