Signs of Spring in the Mountains

I was born and raised in a suburb of Seattle, where the climate is “temperate.” That’s a kind way of saying it rains (or drizzles) a lot and the temperature variation throughout the seasons is small. It rarely falls below freezing or rises above 90F. It’s cloudy most of the time, even when it isn’t raining. Because of all the moisture, the landscape is green, lush, and…damp.

Seattle has two seasons. The rainy season is from July 17th until roughly July 15th. Then there is a 48 hour window for summer although sometimes it is only 42 hours. One year, while I was there we had two summers. One was in mid July and then we were blessed with a second summer on August 14th. August 14th is still a local holiday and sometimes we sacrifice a virgin goat on that day to try to appease the Gods to grant us that every year.

Jay H. Link on Quora.com, answering the question, “Does Seattle, Washington have four seasons?”
Seattle rain meme

So imagine my joy when, moving to the mountains of Idaho at the age of 49, I finally got to experience four distinct seasons!

I’ve learned that just when I begin to grow a bit weary of the sameness of one season and the outdoor recreation it offers, the next season arrives and everything is new and fun again.

Transitions between seasons are always interesting. That’s when Mother Nature displays her sense of humor. For example, offering us spring-like days in late February/early March, luring me to sit on the deck reading magazines in the afternoon sunshine, only to abruptly throw fresh snow on the ground in late March/early April.

deck table
Deck furniture out from the garage, enjoying the sunshine and the snow on March 19, 2020.

Such a tease, Mother Nature. We might get snow in May. Keeps me on my toes.

By mid-April, though, the signs of spring where I live – at 4000 feet in elevation – are undeniable: most of the snow has melted off, filling creeks and rivers; the grass in my yard and field re-emerges with green stems and leaves; newborn calves are drinking their mothers’ milk in nearby pastures; migrating birds – especially Canada geese and sandhill cranes – noisily announce their temporary visits on their way north; other seasonal birds – robins, red-winged blackbirds, bluebirds, killdeers, tree swallows – have returned for the summer and fill dawn and dusk with their songs; wildflowers dare to bloom in the forest despite overnight frosts; and my own garden’s wildflowers start pushing through the soil, offering the promise of colorful blooms soon.

In higher elevations nearby, it’s still winter. Which is fun, because the boys and I can find snow to play on through July if we’re willing to climb high enough.

Perhaps the most entertaining aspect of spring at my house, though: the deer highway reopens for business.

When I first moved here, I noticed that white-tailed deer crossed my lot regularly. An uphill neighbor referred to their path as the “deer highway,” a term I quickly adopted. And it’s true: every spring and fall, lots of deer move from one section of the national forest to another by crossing a corner of my lot before moving across adjoining lots. While some come through year round, in spring and fall their numbers increase dramatically and it becomes a daily occurrence, morning and evening.

dogs and deer
Conall and Finn watching a small group of deer contemplate their route across the field. April 19, 2020.

The deer have grown used to my dogs. Sometimes they’re skittish, especially the fawns and yearlings in the spring, leaping toward the safety of cover if Finn barks at them, their white tails waving like flags as they go, emerging a few minutes later to try again. Eventually they realize that my yard fence keeps them safe and they pay little attention to Finn.

Video shot through my home office window of a group of deer following their usual path. Finn noticed what I was doing; at 16 seconds you hear him go out the dog door into the yard to woof at the deer. April 16, 2020.

One year, not long after I moved here, I got to observe a fascinating interaction between a young deer and my two female Alaskan Malamutes, Maia and Meadow.

I was inside the house, in my office. The girls (this was before Finn and Conall) were relaxing in the yard. It was a spring day, late in the afternoon. Suddenly, I heard the girls “thundering” as they ran from one end of the fenced yard to the other, sounding like a herd of elephants. I went to the sliding glass door to see what attracted their attention, and was stunned to see a young deer standing just a few feet beyond the fence on the northwest side, staring the girls down, nostrils flared. The girls, tails wagging in excitement, were shoulder-to-shoulder, not barking, just watching the deer through the wire fencing, waiting for it to start acting like a deer and run. I stepped outside to watch. The deer didn’t seem disturbed by my presence. I wondered how long this stand-off would last.

Soon the deer trotted casually uphill and behind my house heading southeast; the girls and I lost sight of him because the fenced yard didn’t go fully around the east side of the house. The girls raced back to the southwest end of the fenced yard, searching for the deer, me following a bit more slowly. I was stunned to see the deer approach the fence and the girls again. No doubt now that he was doing this purposefully.

The girls pressed their noses through wire of the fence, sniffing, tails wagging, enjoying this game immensely. This time, though, the deer started snorting in a way that I can only describe as a sort of odd scream. I’d never heard anything like it. Clearly, it was a challenge. He stamped his front legs, screamed, charged forward a few feet, then stopped and watched for the girls’ reaction.

The girls were dumbfounded, as was I. We all just stood still and watched. I’m pretty sure the girls had the same thought as me: this deer is crazy! Thank goodness for the fence. Deer hooves used as weapons are nothing to sneeze at.

Then, from higher up on a neighboring lot on the side of the yard where all this drama started I heard another loud snorting sound, I saw a larger, female deer. She snorted some more while looking at us. The young deer looked back at her. Suddenly it all made sense to me: we were being challenged by a young buck, feeling his oats. Sort of a false bravado, though, with the fence between him and the girls. Smart deer. But mama was telling him to knock it off before he got hurt. After a last scream at the girls, the young deer turned and trotted slowly up to mama. They both then disappeared behind some trees as they made their way up and across the hill on their way to the forest.

Teenagers! Testosterone!

I figured the show was over and returned to my office.

Wrong!

Ten minutes later I heard the girls thundering across the yard again, toward the road/south side of the yard. I raced to the slider to look and gasped at the sight that awaited me: that same juvenile deer was chasing a neighbor’s dog, Muttley – a chihuahua mix – down the road! Muttley, running for all he was worth, knew he’d better not stop until he had a deck to hide under.

As I worked on putting this post together this afternoon, several groups of deer visited briefly on their journey across my lot. I love my office view. I love spring.

dogs in yard
Conall is amused that Finn tries to herd deer from inside our yard. April 29, 2019.

11 thoughts on “Signs of Spring in the Mountains”

  1. Wow, fun afternoon. I never get a chance to interact with our deer. Anytime someone tries to go out back when they’re around, they bolt. Interestingly, there have been about three times the usual number since the lockdown started, but I can’t see how the two are connected.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. The deer here are usually skittish as well. That one close interaction was unique, for sure.

      I imagine all wildlife are puzzled at how quiet the world is these days. How that alters their behavior is for the experts to discern, but I have to believe they feel safer, even bolder in many places that used to have more human traffic. I hope they enjoy it while they can!

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  2. That was so much fun to read! In fall 2018 there was a small group of mule deer — a buck and his harem — that Bear and I saw every day we went out. After a while they began to look for us and follow us along our whole walk from about the distance of a football field. One afternoon, one of the does decided to approach me. Bear is absolutely still and silent around them and horses. She just sat quietly beside me. I had to tell the deer I wasn’t her friend. Sadly, I never saw them again. 😦 I would love to see your “deer highway!”

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I admit I’m impatient with Finn’s barking, as I enjoy watching the deer and don’t want them to feel threatened, although I also have to also admit that his barking makes them jump and leap, tails flashing, which is fun to watch.
      I can totally see Bear watching deer calmly, wondering if they need her help staying safe from predators.
      I hope you and Bear befriend more deer soon. Our strangely quieter world, however temporary, may grant you that wish ❤

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  3. Love the photo of Conall smiling while Finn–ever on duty–keeps watch for marauding ungulates! The wildflower photos are also gorgeous, but I’m a sucker for smiling dogs (especially when they’re so close to the lens) 🙂 Thanks for yet another life-affirming missive.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Here’s another dog nut that likes all the pics of your boys. This reminds me of the deer in the Shenandoah National Park where I do some backpacking. They are protected there and they know it. They will come right up to you with no fear at all. This fact actually figures into a plot line in my book.

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