A herd of ten mule deer are bedded down in our front yard as if this is their home, at least for now. They exhibit little fear when I open the door to greet them. But huge ears stand at attention and dark eyes stare at me while this docile gathering mindfully chews their cud. The herd wanders our neighborhood, grazing the dry winter lawns and browsing the few leaves remaining on garden foliage. They only become excited when a pet dog goes off leash and decides to engage in a chase. But this rarely happens.
I often wonder about these urban deer. They seem so habituated to neighborhood life. I know their natural habitat is being rapidly replaced by subdivisions popping up around us. Street and sewer infrastructure replaces wide swaths of so-called ‘undeveloped’ land nearby. With no open forests in which to retreat, the deer follow the instinct to adapt. I imagine they will be here until the two legged inhabitants no longer tolerate their presence or they die of disease from their unnatural isolation.
As long as the deer remain, my inclination is to engage in interspecies communication. I sit and watch and listen. As I have no desire to view them as food, the deer tolerate me with an air of disinterest. But we seem to share an energetic presence, a mammalian bond from ancient times. I feel a subtle kinship just sitting with them as they chew their cud of food while I ponder a cud of thoughts.
In Buddhism, the deer symbolizes harmony, happiness, peace and longevity. When a male and a female deer are represented together (often beside the Dharma wheel) it is a direct allusion to the first teachings of Buddha near Varanasi. In one of this former lives, Buddha was a golden deer that spoke to humans. According to the tradition, deer are by nature timid and serene animals and their presence represents the purity of a locale—a place without fear. There are also Tibetan legends in which deer help humans to solve problems.
As we two leggeds experience the end of another solar year, a year in which problems and fear seemed to dominate, it is nice to bear witness to a symbol of peaceful, fearless presence. May this serenity walk the neighborhoods of our discontent. May we recognize this mirror of our courageous, adaptable nature. May all beings be free from suffering and fear.