Bill told me he had been small for his age – “My father use to say I was not much more than a fart held together by bone and skin”. Most of his peers already had their first deer and he was anxious to have his. For more than a year he searched and waited, returning home full of anger and complaints. “Stop fretting,” his father patiently cautioned. “Your deer will come.”
I had known the old Indian for nearly a decade, his popping in and out of my life like a wandering minstrel, a friend, a story-teller, a wisdom gatherer from a time mostly gone. “One evening when I was out hunting,” Bill said, “I saw a doe make a nest for herself. She stamped the grass, made it all nice and flat, laid down and then a buck came along and kicked her out. The doe looked a little annoyed but eventually she wandered down the road and made another nest. Well, that buck walked to where the doe was lying and kicked her out of that nest. So she went and made another nest and sure enough, the buck pushed her out of that one as well. Six times the doe made a nest and six times that buck pushed her out. But when she made the seventh, I guess the buck knew she wasn’t going to quit so he left her alone. It was one of the strangest things I ever saw.”
“Anyway,” he continued. “It wasn’t long after that my deer came. I was sitting watching a buck one day and he raised his head and looked me in the eyes. It was like he was saying: ‘Well, this is your chance, Billy. Are you going to take a shot or not?’ So I shot him. He dropped dead into a ditch and boy, did I have a problem. The buck was more than twice my weight and there was no way I was going to get him out. But just then my father arrived. He said he had come to help because he knew it was the day I was going to get my deer.”
I was quiet for a while, letting the strangeness of the story sink in, but eventually I had to ask the obvious question: “Why didn’t you shoot the buck that was kicking the doe out of her nest? After all, you had plenty of time, a clear shot and you had been trying to get your first deer for nearly a year? Besides,” I smirked, “sounds as if shooting that buck might have done the doe a big favor.”
He smiled and shook his head at the absurdity of my ‘white-man question’, a phrase he used to tease me when my questions missed a critical ingredient in the world he came from. “It wasn’t my deer,” was his answer.