The lost black-tailed fawn was stranded on a ledge along the river. Behind it, sheer rock banks were slicked dark with moss and rain. In front, deep, frigid water. It must have slipped in upstream during the night and clambered onto this false refuge. Now trapped, the fawn was wet, shivering, and, I’m sure, lonelier than it ever had been in its life.
What to do? Mama deer was nowhere to be seen, with no way to find or help its wayward fawn. Should I let nature take its course, however cruel that sometimes can seem, or should I help this pathetic little deer?
I had discovered it frozen against the rocks during my early-morning fishing. The cliffs stretched downward, exposing an ancient earth-rending fault that created a deep channel where salmon pooled on their mysterious voyages to redds of their birth. They spawn, then die, a hideous wasting process, slowly melting them with white fungus. Near the end, they cruise as ghosts, dead fish swimming. It’s nature’s way.
I had a friend, a wildlife biologist, who foreswore any intervention with nature’s way. You don’t try to save orphaned raccoons. You don’t feed the birds. You don’t need wildlife rehabilitation centers. And, you sure as hell don’t rescue Bambi.
I thought about that approach, of letting the fawn suffer its fate to maybe survive, maybe not. What difference would it make, one deer, more or less, in the world?
While I fished, I checked on Bambi regularly, hoping it would take matters into its own little hooves. But each time I drifted by in my boat, it would just get agitated and look hopeless.
After about an hour of this, I concluded it was up to me to do something. Sometimes life puts you in situations where you just have to do something you didn’t plan on. When standing by, when pretending it’s not your problem, isn’t an option. I was alone on the river, bad weather was coming (“Get set for wet and cold,” the online weather alert had warned.), water levels were rising, and I didn’t want to see Bambi’s helpless eyes in my sleep.
I used my big landing net to nudge Bambi into the 46-degree water, then shepherded it swimming toward the end of the cliffs about a hundred yards downstream. But the fawn quickly spotted an apparent escape route, and scrabbled its way onto another dead-end ledge, then up slippery rocks into a tiny, dripping cave. It curled up in the soggy grotto and stared at me. I decided to let it rest a bit, and went back to my fishing.
I wouldn’t even have been on the river, a second day straight, except for one of the local fishing old-boys. In fact, the day before I had been fishing the same way he had taught me, and always had found it wildly successful. Except for that very morning, when I’d caught nothing. He launched his old blue boat, and I had watched him from a distance, slowly trolling along the cliffs. Soon, our boats crossed water paths, and we swapped recent fishing stories. He shared with me his current technique, which I immediately adopted and almost immediately started catching big coho salmon. By the time I left, I had hooked seven, although two had shredded my too-thin leader and swum away with six-dollar lures.
Even though the old guy had been giving me fishing advice for two years, we still didn’t know each other’s names. I did feel like I knew him, however; we had often fished with our boats within hailing distance. He’s hard of hearing so always talks really loud into his cell phone when calling home to “the wife”; forced to eavesdrop, I’d learned way more about his medical conditions than I cared.
“So, what’s your name?” he asked.
“I’m Ken Moore. Think of Sears,” he offered.
Ken Moore. Sears? I thought a moment. Oh, I get it! For some reason, I felt the need to reciprocate with a name-saving tip. “With me, think of John Wayne,” I shouted as our boats drifted apart.
I have no idea why John Wayne was the first association that came to mind. I don’t even like the guy. I suppose it was better than my second thought, which was Wayne Newton.
Before Ken Moore quit for the day, he told me to make sure I got home in time to replace my lost lures and get some stronger leader line. I told him that with the predicted heavy rain due that night, I wouldn’t be back the next day.
“Don’t listen to those weather idiots,” he said.
By the time I left for home, I’d had a fabulous time, so decided to come back the next morning and fish in the rain. I remembered from years earlier in
that the salmon fishing could be exceptional as the first fall storms roared over the Michigan Great Lakes.
So I had returned this second day, brimming with hope and expecting exceptional salmon fishing. I had the right technique, new lures, the river all to myself, and the weather idiots had, in fact, been wrong, and no serious rain had yet arrived.
But the moment had passed. While Bambi shivered in its cave, I caught the second of just two cohos. I wouldn’t realize until four futile fishing hours later that it would be the last salmon I would catch this year. Those perfect moments that you chase, no one ever tells you when they’ve passed. You can just hope you spot them, and savor them, as they go by. No one ever lets you know that this will be the last fish you will catch today, or this year, or ever. It’s a downside of mortality. You just never know.
“Back to the water. Let’s go, little buddy. It won’t be any warmer later. Time to swim some more,” I told it, and rattled my paddle on the rocks. Bambi lost its footing and slid toward me. I didn’t want a deer sharing my boat, nor did I want to share its swim.
The fawn splashed into the river and headed straight for the opposite shore, two hundred feet away. No cliffs, just soft grassy banks, and beyond, pastures and vineyards of the
wineries. No problem, it swam strong. I know that Bambi may never be reunited with its mother. Maybe it won’t survive the coming winter. But at least it has a chance. And, I’ll sleep way better. Umpqua Valley
As I watched Bambi emerge from its river adventure, shake like a dog, and trot off, I waved: “You’re welcome.”
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Wayne's Blog -- Home Page & Index