The Encounter


Jamie closed the shed door quietly and carried the heavy pail down the snow-covered trail to the deer feeding station. Carefully, he made three small piles of corn about six feet apart. Then, looking around, Jamie smiled and started up the trail to the warm cabin. He knew the deer had been watching him.

Jamie knocked the snow from his boots and, looking once more toward the white birch forest, slipped inside the cabin.

High in the loft where Jamie slept was a wide window close to the floor where he could watch the deer come to feed.

Jamie had named the doe and her fawns Mama, Flag, and Stomper. He had watched the fawns grow since spring when they were tiny, wobbly creatures no taller than the brush where they bedded down at night.

Ever since Jamie had named them, he had waited for the day when he would be able to feed them by hand and play with them and call them by name. But Jamie’s father had said it couldn’t be. “Animals in the wild must protect themselves from danger, and humans are a very great danger,” he explained. “If Flag and Stomper became your friends, they might not fear a hunter. We can feed the deer during the winter, but we must not make pets of them. They need to feel fear to survive.”

Jamie understood. He wanted his forest friends to survive. But he felt that somehow, someway, he could show the deer that he alone was their friend.

Later, as he watched from his window in the loft, the deer came out of the forest. First came Mama, slowly sniffing the wind and moving her ears to catch every sound. Then Flag bounced into the clearing and went straight to the corn. Stomper, Jamie knew, would wait out of sight in the brush. Then, when Flag and Mama were eating, he would appear at the far corn pile and stomp his feet—THUMP, THUMP, THUMP—while he ate.

All afternoon a fine snow fell, and by evening three more inches of it were added to the snow already on the ground.

After supper Jamie slipped on his heavy woolen jacket and his warm boots and stepped out into the cold winter night. The bright white light of the February moon cast long shadows as he walked down the wooded trail. He stopped and looked back at the cabin. The yellow orange light from the windows shone brightly on the white birches, on the snow-covered woodpile, and on the more distant snow-covered lake.

CRUNCH!

Jamie turned his head and listened. He pulled his hood back and listened again … THUMP, THUMP.

Jamie held his breath. Can it be? he wondered. It sounds like …

THUMP, THUMP. It was louder now, and Jamie’s heart beat faster as he tried to catch his breath. He knew what it was—who it was. Not moving a muscle, Jamie waited for it to come closer.

THUMP, THUMP.

“Stomper?” Jamie breathed quietly the name of his favorite deer. “Stomper?” He turned ever so slowly and waited, holding his breath. “Stomper?” he whispered again.

Then, as though he had been there all the while, as though he were a part of the frozen ground and snow-covered trees, Stomper appeared not ten feet away.

“Stomper,” Jamie whispered once more, letting his breath out slowly.

Stomper stood erect and tall, his eyes fixed on Jamie. The deer picked up his right leg, bent it, and—THUMP—stomped his foot hard on the frozen ground. Jamie dared not move, though he desperately wanted to touch the deer, just once.

Stomper moved one step toward Jamie! And then another! The deer stretched out its neck so close to Jamie that Jamie could hear him breathe. Jamie reached out slowly. Stomper didn’t move.

All of a sudden there was a terrific snort, a whistling snort, and Stomper wheeled about. “Mama!” Jamie gasped as the doe rushed toward Stomper, kicking her front feet and rearing up at the young deer.

“Jamie!” It was his father’s voice. “Come here, Son.” His father was crouched by the side of the trail.

Stomper and his mother bounded through the forest and stopped some distance away.

“Dad! You knew! And Stomper’s mother knew too!”

“Jamie,” his father said, “I guess both of us parents knew what would happen if you two had an encounter,” he said sympathetically. Putting his arm around Jamie’s shoulder, his father walked with him back to the cabin.

High up on the hill, the deer stood and watched the man and his son walking back to the lighted cabin. The doe licked the face of her little buck, and they turned and walked slowly into the winter forest.

[illustrations] Illustrated by Mike Eagle