My home, outside of Winters, California, is like the place in Africa where man was born. We named it Savanna Hills for its water, trees, wildlife, and open space with distant and varied views, and savanna-like grasslands.
I walk my savanna over the east hill, toward a group of jays and mockingbirds doing their alarm calls. They are in a large coyote bush that arises out of a stand of poison oak. I’m accompanied by my young pointer, now crouching and creeping at full alert, the light breeze bringing her information that’s lost on me. The dog continues to sneak forward until a hidden buck suddenly stands, lowering his horns and freezing my dog at a dozen paces. The buck stands sideways in the brush – nice antlers, clear-eyed, unsure while looking at me. He raises his right foreleg, gently shaking it, as if to show me the instability recently caused by a hunter’s shot.
I slowly back away, my dog locked in a point that would hold the deer. I start toward my nearby house with the intention of getting a rifle to put the deer out of its misery. On the way, I think back to a previous year when I tracked a Colorado elk with a similar injury – all day long in the snow – unable to ever get to him even though I could sometimes hear him just ahead. Maybe this buck can survive his wound. I call to my wife, “There’s a wounded buck over the hill! Let’s take a look.”
On the way we pick a watermelon from our garden. The buck and the dog have not changed positions. I speak softly, as I cut the watermelon into four pieces and put them down. “Don’t worry. I won’t hurt you!” I take my dog by the collar. As we walk out of sight the buck doesn’t move.
The next day he’s gone. Only the watermelon rinds remain.