Lessons from a Deer

This has been a year to remember, and this season as well.

For me personally, it has been the deer teaching me the most: about connection to the landscape, awareness of my surroundings, and my moment by moment impact on the world. It’s been about where nature exists (all around!) where my food comes from, and about how closely connected to it all I really am, if sometimes I happen to forget.

In any case, we got a great reminder of so many great lessons a couple of weeks back, as the Fiery Foxes program was playing a game in the Humber Valley to burn off some steam, and one of the kids spotted a good sized Buck (male deer) trotting along the valley side, just in the trees, skirting the bottom of the hill.

Needless to say, the kids went mental. It was great. We gathered up and followed the Buck at a distance (Bucks in the rutting stage of the Fall can be quite aggressive) and watched it for a few hundred yards before it disappeared into the thicker brush. We headed back to camp to get prepped for the day, and then an excited crew of four came with me as a tracking team to follow the story that this deer left behind.

We were quiet – a strictly enforced rule when trailing an animal. We were listening hard, and looking all around for tracks, sign, and any other clues that we could find.
There were lots of questions, and lots of pretending to be a deer: If you were a deer, what would you be doing at this time of year? What would you be eating and where would you be drinking? Where would you find shelter, and where would you find other deer? How would you communicate with them and other life in the forest, what would you be paying attention to and what would be communicating with you?

We were finding tracks all over the place, but not all of them were fresh, and not all of them were male deer. How can you tell the difference between male and female deer through their tracks? Good question! See if you can find out more through a quick search or two!

Anyhow, we followed the trail the best we could and lost it where it got thick. So we spread out looking for sign.
There it was! A scrape! That’s why he was here!


Male deer have what are called scrape lines, where they scrape away all debris from the ground, leaving a patch of soil exposed to the air. They’ll often do this along a travel route that they use quite often, making a number of them into connected dots in a travel line. They urinate in scrapes and leave scent marks above them on overhanging branches as a way to communicate to other deer.

And we found one! So we were back on the trail, and just after we started sneaking off along his trail again, we hear a pshhhh! of dry leaves being rustled in the brush just ahead of us. We all slowly re-focused our eyes, looking into the darker underbrush and then one of the kids said: “it’s not the deer, it’s just a baby hawk.”

We snuck a little closer, and then got to watch a Cooper’s Hawk (looks like a baby compared to the Red Tails we see around here so often) as it feasted on it’s freshly caught lunch. About ten minutes later, it opted for more privacy, and took off. We examined the feathers and left overs, and still are curious what kind of bird it might have been eating.

We continued on, finding scrape after scrape, and rubs (where Bucks rub their antlers on trees as a visual and olfactory signpost) all over the place. The last one we could find was even out of the woods, and was quite big, just beside a wooded island of trees, beside a pavement path and grassy open park area.

It’s always such a gift to find such wild creatures living as they always have, paying attention to the cycles of the year and month, even in urban areas such as Toronto. It makes me very grateful for the parks and ravine systems that we have in the city, and grateful for these kids that were so exicted to follow the trail left behind by the deer. The deer led us on a journey that held adventure, awareness, knowledge, and mystery. It inspired us, and gave us stories to share, and taught us about how we move through the world, allowing us to be quiet enough to hear that Coopers Hawk, which we would have otherwise walked right by!

Thanks Deer! And thanks all for an amazing Fall!