A rural moment

Camp Meeker, California

The retreat center I’m staying at for a couple of days is in the middle of second growth redwood woodlands. This morning, I walked around a bend in a trail , and there were two mule deer (Odocoileus hemionus) standing in the middle of the trail They both froze and looked at me, although they were obviously not particularly afraid to see a human being. I froze and looked back at them. The three of us stood there frozen for four or five minutes until the mule deer decided that I was either not a threat, or stupid, or both. They twitched their big ears, and started browsing again.

They were bending their heads down and eating something that lay on the path. There was no greenery for them to browse on; all I could near them see was old redwood cones; so I couldn’t figure out what it was they were eating. I watched their jaws move sideways as they chewed. Little bits of stuff fell out of the side of their mouths as they ate. They were not very attractive eaters.

At last I got bored, and started walking again. They looked at me as if surprised that I was moving, and then bounded away in a leisurely fashion. When I got to the place where the deer had been, I saw what it was they had been eating: acorns from the tan bark oaks (Lithocarpus densiflorus or, according to some taxonomists, Notholithocarpus densiflorus. The bits of stuff I had seen falling out of the sides of their mouths were bits of the outer husk of the acorns.