Warren Pond is frozen, and its smooth surface is padded with two inches of equally smooth snow that fell last night. The snow is scissored by lines of deer track, lines which span edge to edge, then re-cross in a new direction, creating geometric shapes that I can see in overview from where my house sits, slightly above it on a sloping mound.
Every winter, multiple signs of animal traffic appear on the pond’s surface: raccoon at the edges, deer stepping sedately across, squirrel scrabbling in corners, the long, loping hops of rabbits that toss up snow behind them. Despite this, I have never myself stepped foot on the surface, distrustful of its strength, fearing an icy, desperate plunge. Almost certainly, though, most of the does that step sure-footedly onto the expanse weigh more than I. Their trust is probably not foolish or thoughtless, but practiced; experience tells them that the level of chill they feel on their flanks assures them safe passage. Yet I hesitate, let trepidation direct my feet onto stable ground around the curved bank.
As I watch from my window, three deer, all does, walk in single file from tipped embankment onto the pond’s flat surface. Their narrow hooves plow through the snow, barely lifting, aware of the slickness below. They are unperturbed, only a quiet rustling in the cold, silent air. At the opposite bank, they line up side by side, not huddled but distinct, and lower their heads to chew on brittle sedges that jut from the snow. I watch them for several minutes. Their feet are motionless on the ice; only their necks rise and fall. I can see their throat muscles ripple and flex as they chew.
Then, almost in unison their necks stretch up, ears pull back, and their faces twist to the left. A pause of a few seconds, then from the right edge of my window jam a tumble of deer clamoring into view, all moving across the ice with a tangled hurriedness towards the others. They are moving so fast and in such disorder that it is hard for me to count them–seven, maybe eight, marking more lines on the unmarred coverlet of snow.
The group scrambles up the bank and into the thicket, some moving into the woods beyond, out of sight, others milling about in the tangle of brush, a few stepping onto the snowy slope of lawn.
When they are gone, I pull on thick, bear-like boots, down coat, and an ear flap cap with swinging tassles and tromp a direct route through undisturbed snow to the ice’s edge. Resisting the urge to hesitate, I walk on the water, trusting the knowledge of those who have gone before me.