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When we heard the noise we did not know what it was. Sometimes the wind howls and slams into houses up here. We thought it was the wind. It was not the wind. It was a herd of deer crashing into the sides of the garage and tumbling across the deck all legs and eyes and white tails raised in alarm.

I don’t know what caused the deer to be so frightened. They belong to a small herd that range though the yard of this temporary house. I have never counted exactly how many there are but it is something in the neighborhood of 12 to 15 deer. Normally they cross and crisscross the area around the house that is composed of junipers, scrub and rocks. They browse in the scrub and settle amid the rocks to rest.

close up of two young mule deer side by side in trees in snow looking atthe camera

Two young mule deer that lived in our woods that burned.

This is a safe place for them. I have never seen them run. I am here most days so I see the goings on outside the house as the day waxes and wanes. In the morning, the deer walk left to right on the path closest to the quiet road and then in the afternoon they walk right to left crossing about halfway between the road and the house. Left to right, right to left, morning and afternoon make up their daily circuit. Usually they amble, snacking along the way. Sometimes they move with purpose. A mother may push her yearling ahead but I don’t remember seeing them moving much faster than a brisk walk.

When I heard the sound I knew it was not right for wind but this is not a house we know all that well so I thought perhaps it was. I looked at the trees and grass and they were not moving enough to account for the sound. I commented to my spouse, “I guess there must be a wind lower toward the ground?” I could not quite grasp this sound and movement that was pressing in but it was important to me to understand. We have lived in areas with earthquakes and tornadoes. You learn that when you hear loud sounds you cannot identify you have to run the idea by just in case.

When we lived in Alaska earthquakes were sort of like rain. Mostly they came in showers and they came often. Sometimes it was a torrential downpour but mostly it was just ordinary rain. Ordinary for Alaska. We were always amazed that the national news reported earthquakes in the lower 48 that were not as strong as the ones that routinely happened even in the populated areas of Alaska. You never take earthquakes for granted but you do build up a certain tolerance and a sense of when it is time to be concerned.

When we first moved into our now deceased house we discovered in contrast to our Alaska house that was strapped to the foundation our Idaho house was a little shaky. It was a timber frame design and the posts had a give to them. It took us a while to get used to. After having lived around earthquakes we were a bit nervous in a house that was not rock-solid like like our Alaska house was. The washer in our shaky house had a powerful spin cycle. It was one of those that made the washer dance across the room. It also made the upstairs shake.

Our office was upstairs just above the laundry room. When the washer commenced its spin cycle the office would shake and our computer monitors would dance an echo of the washer’s dance. After the earthquake years my heart always skipped a beat when the spin cycle started. We grew a habit of calling out in ironic jest, “earthquake” so we could put our hearts back into our chests reminding ourselves it was the laundry and not really an earthquake.

One day we were working and the monitors started to sway and the office shook. Both of us thought, “earthquake” cum laundry and then realized there was no washing going on. We looked at each other wide eyed but just as the shaking stopped we knew for sure it was really an earthquake. When it started again I cried out, “Run!” We headed for the stairs racing to get outside as far from the shaky house as possible when the second quake stopped. It took much longer for our hearts to stop quaking. Later we found out it was the shallow 4.4 magnitude Chesterfield Earthquake centered about 100 miles southeast of us. Having traveled those 100 miles the quake was not large but it was enough to change the way we thought about living here. We knew the Greater Yellowstone area and the mountains in the center of the state of Idaho were seismically active with multiple quakes a month. It is rare, though, for one to be above the mid 3M and rarely can they be felt. Since that time, though, we incorporated earthquakes you can feel into our collection of thoughts that should be though when thinking about where you live.

So today when we heard the thundering sound and I seemed to perceive shaking in the house, my mind turned to earthquakes. Just about that time I saw the first of the deer come tumbling by. They were not falling but had they slowed down at all they would have fallen. It all happened so fast I could only sit and watch them crash by. I could not even tell how many of them were there they were so jumbled up. I could feel their panic. They were just on the other side of the curtain of the living room. One slip and they would have come right through the plate glass windows.

By the time I gathered my wits they were gone. Nothing was left behind to show that they had passed by except for some skid marks on the deck that will weather away soon.

I thought on what predator could have frightened the deer so. We have had in the past mountain lions in the area. Years back we often found large cat paw prints in the powdery dry earth around the north side of our house. It invited us not to go out in the dark. A mother and her cubs were captured and relocated. Another time a mother had died and the cub was rescued. We have not seen nor heard any of the large cats for several years but perhaps because of the fire they have ranged back into the area. We do have coyote, lots of them here but they usually don’t spend much time in the trees like we have around here. I could no longer see the fleeing deer nor the thing that frightened them so much they felt the need to flee even in their own home range.

As humans is difficult for us to think about being defenseless like the deer were today. A Native elder once said to me that it came as a surprise to people to find out they were not at the top of the food chain. If you spend time in the forest you do learn that humans are not the top of the food chain. Still, we like to think that we are safe. We like to think that the dangers in our lives are predictable and that if we just stay aware and take care we can prevent bad things from happening to us. It empowers us to live without being afraid all the time. It is ultimately not true and we know it but it is a protective garment that we need to wear. If we are helpless in the face of danger we are like the deer fleeing blindly doing our best to evade danger but never knowing where it lurks.

Sometimes the wind howls and slams into houses up here. Today it was a herd of deer crashing and tumbling across, legs and eyes and white tails raised in alarm. When I saw their panic, I wanted to give them part of the protective safety garment we wear. I looked at them I remembered again that my garment can kept me warm but cannot always keep me safe.