On Thanksgiving Friday I drove my son, David, to Woodstock to spend the weekend. It rained heavily all the way. On my return trip to Sarnia, I went into London and made my customary stop at Woodland Cemetery where my dad and grandmother were buried some thirty-three years ago. The rain was still pouring down heavily, emphasizing the colours of changing fall leaves and putting a glossy candy-coat on everything. I followed the winding road through the trees and passed gravestones that have been accumulating there for more than 100 years.
Suddenly, no more than 50 feet away, a beautiful white tailed deer appeared from behind a monument. Then another, and another, and more. They stopped and gave me a curious look and then began to graze. Duchess, my black Labrador retriever was sitting in the passenger seat and took notice, but just watched in her normal laid-back fashion. I stopped the car and reached back to get my camera. I rolled down the
window and began shooting photographs of this most beautiful sight, while my left pant leg rapidly absorbed the falling rain.
At this point the deer began to move away so I put the car in gear, and quietly circled around on the winding road with the hopes that they would come to me. I was not disappointed when the herd of seven does and one four-point buck came within 100 feet of me. Two of the does lay down in the rain and simply observed the scene. They almost looked like they were chatting with each other. Two more approach to within twenty feet of me and melted me with their beautiful dark eyes and peaceful, gentle faces. I continued to take about 150 photographs of this incredible scene.
Then I stopped, put down the camera, and was completely at peace. Raindrops continued to splatter in my side window but I was too entranced to notice. This is the first time in 33 years I've seen deer in the cemetery. Dad and my grandmother would have been extremely pleased.
On my way out of the cemetery I stopped at the office to thank them for encouraging the deer. The lady at the desk said that not everyone was happy about the deer. They nibble on flowers and trees planted beside gravestones. In fact they had eaten the two small evergreens planted beside our headstone. A very small price to pay for the presence of such beauty. I suggested those who didn't want to have flowers eaten should use artificial flowers or they could help provide for the deer. I stressed the importance of keeping the deer for their positive, therapeutic effects on visitors. Treasure them.
Many years ago, I took my children to Marineland in Niagara Falls. In one section, they have a large herd of deer who mingle with the visitors. It is probably the most popular place in Marineland. The deer are very gentle and patient with the children who can hug them and feed them safely. I have a lot of pictures of that encounter, one of which has been reproduced into a very large “portrait” on the wall.
Although cemeteries try to provide a well manicured environment, each gravestone represents the life of one or more people who have left others behind who miss them terribly. The cemetery is a place of sadness, longing for what was, and what might have been. For me, the appearance of the small herd of whitetail deer represented renewed life and peace. Yes, they may munch on posies and small trees, but if we're wise we will encourage them to remain with those we have loved and lost. They can be wonderful therapy for those going through grieving a recent loss and those who still feel that connection decades later.