Lessons to an Aging Druidess from the Natural World
By C. L. McGinley
Two summers ago, I journeyed to Boston by train to attend a week-long intensive that resulted in certification in Harner Method Shamanic Counseling. It was a fascinating and sometimes grueling 5 days of shamanic journeying and self-evaluation. On the final day of the seminar, I met a new spirit on my culminating journey – a woman named Morning Glory, who was accompanied by three animal spirits: a doe, a yearling doe, and a doe fawn. I touched noses with all three deer, establishing a bond, and Morning Glory told me she was to be my teacher for a time. She admonished me to return to her as soon as possible, for she had many things to teach me.
Life being what it is, I did not get a chance to return to that glade in the deep woods where I had met the woman and her deer (a place I had accessed from the Upper World, much to my surprise at the time). I did journey, but it was for other people and animals. I once received a message on a journey for another (several months later) -- a message through my spirit horse, who told me that Morning Glory wanted me to come to visit her. I said that I would, and fully intended to, but other things kept getting in the way and I did not find the time.
I was busy building my shamanic life & wellness coaching business, you see, and I was working in the Otherworld to find lost dogs and help people heal in body, mind, and spirit. I had no time for journeys to Spirit for myself. On the physical plane, I traveled to an equestrian trade show on Memorial Day weekend with my good friend, Ravendancer, to promote my business in person and give a presentation. The day after my return home, I received a phone call from a young man. He told me he had a fawn that he wanted to bring to me. I am a licensed wildlife rehabilitator, so I asked pertinent questions and found out that he and his buddy saw a doe dead on the side of the road who had obviously been hit by a car. On closer inspection, they discovered a small fawn standing by the body, and so they picked the fawn up and took it home. They were told by neighbors that, without a license, they could be arrested for even having the fawn, and so they wanted to bring the fawn to me. I agreed that they could bring the fawn to me, and I went out to the barn to prepare an empty stall between two of my horses.
I was not prepared for this fawn, as much as I tried to be. Oh, I had everything I could possibly need for her comfort: goat milk replacer, hay bedding, a heat lamp for warmth, baby wipes, three different sizes of bottles and nipples. Still, I was not prepared. When the boys brought the little deer to me, I determined immediately that she was a doe fawn, but she could not have weighed over 5 pounds, and I estimated that she was not two days old yet, because she still had her umbilical stump. I had never seen such a tiny fawn before. I removed the fawn from the car and I carried her, kicking and bleating, into the barn and then into the stall I had fixed up for her. I placed her carefully on the loose hay bedding and sat down to be at eye-level with her. We were left alone, she and I, and we looked into each others’ eyes, each assessing the other – and I was not prepared for the sorrow I saw there in those big, brown, long-lashed eyes. It came to me then that her name was Deirdre, for her sadness was palpable. The loss of her mother, and the witnessing thereof, had affected her deeply.
And it came to me quick as a flash as my heart went out to the little creature that this fawn was sent to me by Morning Glory, and was perhaps even the physical manifestation of the spirit fawn with which I had touched noses in the Spirit World. I did not know if the plan was to send her to me even as I met her in the Spirit World. I only knew that with the arrival of this fawn, Spirit was at work in my life once again. Our connection was instant and powerful. From the moment we locked eyes, I became Deirdre’s mother and she, my child.
Deidre in her pink coat
She trusted me implicitly, because, well, she already knew me. For my part, I groomed her and fed her the bottle every 4 hours like clockwork, getting up at least twice a night for the first month and a half. It amazed even me that I could do that, that I could get myself out of bed and go out in the cold night to feed a tiny baby that was not really mine. I was surprised that it wasn’t some chemical instinct that drove me, a result of oxcytocin letdown or other maternal hormone. No, it was the knowledge that I was the only mommy she had now, and the love I felt for this small, helpless baby from the start. That was what drove me to sleep in fitful bursts of 2.5 to 3 hours at a time, to mix formula and heat bottles to just the right temperature in the microwave, and to spend most of my waking time sitting on a mounting block or on the floor in a stall in the barn, snuggling and playing kissy-face with a doe fawn that wore a little pink dog jacket sized for a Chihuahua as insulation against the chilly spring evenings.
After a rough and scary two weeks of scours (diarrhea), I finally got her on a very expensive fawn replacer formula (instead of the goat formula) that I ordered online, and adjusted it so that she could tolerate it. She never did tolerate even the fawn formula full-strength. But fawn formula wasn’t the only thing she ate. From the first week, she experimented with just about everything green or brown from the earth. Her “playpen” was my fenced garden yard, where lovely raised-bed garden boxes beckoned with such fawn-ish delights as peas and beans and red chard, where trees shaded the well area in the heat of the day, providing a cool hiding place. Her favorite things to eat were fallen leaves from all kinds of trees: willow, aspen, oak, alder, ash. Grape and rose leaves were a favorite as well, and for some reason, she loved geranium petals.
She learned the meaning of the word “no” fairly quickly, as most toddlers do when they get into trouble. She got on well with all the other animals, taking a liking to the dog and to Alf, the old horse, especially. One of her favorite things was breakfast with Mommy on the terrace, and she shared bits of cantaloupe from a fork with delicate grace. She soon had the run of the house, and discovered that bottles could be had on the terrace, in the kitchen, or in the barn – wherever the Mommy was. She started to understand going outside to do her business.
Her sadness began to evaporate. Her legs grew strong and agile. She played and jumped about like a goat, and bleated in loud complaint like one as well. And one of the things she complained about loudest was restraint.
This brings me to what Deirdre has been teaching me. For all the basic life lessons I have taught her, she has taught me much more, things both precious and profound.
She has taught me that love is a bond that cannot be broken, but that holding someone against his or her will breaks trust and frays the bond – and that restoring that trust may take some time. Deirdre and I traveled from barn to garden yard each day, and on that short journey, there were a great deal of scary things that instinct told her to run away from. I realized that in the wild, she would run away from, not toward, her mother at the first sign of trouble. It made sense in the wild: the fawn would hide in the woods or tall grass while mother led the predator away from her. However, it would be dangerous at my farm, where roads and traffic and farm vehicles were always a danger, and should she run in the wrong direction – well, I didn’t want to think about it. So I bought a small dog harness and walked her on a retractable lead from barn to garden, where she could then be turned loose to play within the safety of the fence. This worked wonderfully for a few months, but as she grew older and stronger, she began to fight the restraint, and got herself in quite a tangle a few times. She began to fear and resent the harness, until eventually, I couldn’t even get near her with it. She once got all four feet and her neck caught in the harness and immobilized herself. Filled with terror at not being able to move, she let out the most heart-wrenching sound I have ever heard from an animal. It was a sound of desperation, and of finality –it was a death cry. I hope to never hear such a sound again, for it broke my heart. She would approach me with fear after that, fear that remained and caused conflict within her for days.
Deidre - 4 months old
I tried an adjustable dog halter. It was not feared like the harness, and she was easier to control, but she still fought it with all of her heart, and threw herself on the ground like a drama queen when I asked her to wear it. I realized that fawns were not like foals, who eventually got used to the idea of being lead around by a halter. Deirdre, after six months, is still not used to such things. Her spirit is wild and free, and restraint does not work with her. As Mommy, I am able to guide her where I want her to go with a push from behind, and now she has her own turnout behind the barn and I don’t have to lead her anywhere. Consequently, she follows me everywhere.
So she has taught me that sometimes protection and prison are the same, depending on how you look at it.
She has taught me that fear is a dangerous thing – sometimes more dangerous than the thing we fear. It can make us do foolish things that might jeopardize our safety. For this reason, children of any species still need boundaries for their own safety, until they develop the wisdom to understand and reason.
She has taught me that gentle and quiet does not mean weak or ineffective. Ask my cat, Moby. One day he decided he had had enough of Deirdre licking his face while they were in the garden, and he swatted at her face with one clawed paw. Her immediate reaction to his threat was to strike at him rapidly with both front hooves. He reacted the only way he could: he ran! This was no helpless fawn!
More than anything, she has taught me how to be a real mother, and to know what it is to have someone depend on me for everything – food, shelter, warmth, love. I’ve had baby animals before, especially foals, but this was different somehow. The bond the others had was with their natural mother first, and then with me. This fawn thinks that I am her mother. She has taught me a capacity for love and an infinite patience that I never knew I had. She has taught me that I have more strengths than I ever knew, and that some of them are the quiet, unassuming kind. She has opened my heart and my soul to the healing power of love. She has saved me.
I do not know what the future will bring for Deirdre. I do not know if she has the savvy to be turned out in the wild; after all, she has never really been wild – and yet I have seen her instincts kick in at the most crucial of times. I do not know if she will decide one day to leave here and live the life of a doe, or if she will stay protected for the rest of her life. When she is old enough, I will let her decide, because I love her.
But I thank Morning Glory every day for sending me Deirdre. Those lessons she promised to teach me are still being learned, every day, through the doe fawn, and I am guessing that there are more to come. There is one thing I know for certain, though: I have never been so blessed.