Thursday, September 27, 2018

Deer whispering

I once read a book that suggested it's possible to speak to animals—really speak, and really be understood word-for-word. The book made me a little angry, to tell you the truth. It was like a tantalizing but false offer of the greatest gift I could ever hope to receive.

Nonetheless, I believe I can speak to animals through my body language—through my touch—through the tone of my voice. I believe they can understand what's on my heart when my attention is attuned to them.

I have two great dreams: one, that I might one day open a deer sanctuary on Whidbey, to rehabilitate injured and orphaned deer and to support the conditions for safer deer-driver interactions. Two, that I might die with enough money or fame to warrant the construction of the Marnie A. Jackson Memorial Wildlife Bridge, to allow safe passage of wild animals over Highway 525.


I had an extraordinary experience last night.

I was driving to the ferry to pick up my daughters at about 8:45 pm and I saw three vehicles pulled over on the highway. Out of the corner of my eye, I realized the drivers were kneeling on the shoulder next to the moving body of a young deer. At that point, I had passed their location and couldn't safely stop.

"Three stopped cars," I thought. "They've probably got it handled." And then I thought of the fawn who was entangled in a wire fence three years ago, and whom I'd delivered to Sarvey Wildlife Center two hours away . . . and another fawn, who didn't make it but who died in my arms after another driver struck her . . . and the badly injured doe with whom I'd waited for twenty long minutes last winter until a sheriff arrived to ease her passing. I had too much experience to drive past without stopping. Too many visions in my mind of the various possible outcomes, for better or worse.

I went around the block, turned on my flashers, and pulled up next to the crowd. There was a woman I didn't know, kneeling near the fawn. The rest of the crowd came into form in the pooling light of the street lamps, and I realized with surprise that they were all friends—J, a volunteer at the Whidbey Institute. M, a childhood friend. E, a colleague and, incidentally, my first employer (I gave her son riding lessons when I was 14). This is small town life.

The deer was flailing, thrashing, and beating his head against the ground. One leg was folded under his body. His horn buds were just starting to swell to little lumps the size of blackberries. His spots had faded into a smooth, healthy brown coat. His mouth foamed. The crowd thought he was dying, and had carried him from the pavement to the grass to await the sheriff and a merciful bullet. I asked for permission to approach, which they gladly granted.

Two police officers arrived just moments after me, and they agreed with the assumption that the fawn was on the way out. "I think her leg is broken," said one. "We see this all the time," said another. "We put down several a week. We'll end her suffering."

I didn't think so. I had seen animals in the spasms of death. I had seen grand mal siezures, I had seen neurogenic shock, and and I had heard the agonal breathing of animals near death. This wasn't those.

I sat beside the jerking fawn and lay my hands on his body. I bent my head, and I poured as much love and peace through my hands into his body as I could muster. The rest of the scene faded away from my consciousness as I touched my forehead to his neck and whispered, "you're a beautiful baby and I love you. You have a long life ahead. You can stand up and walk away." He grew still. His breathing became regular.

When I moved back, he stood—drunkenly at first—and shook. His legs were unsteady but uninjured.

Two sheriff's deputies and I walked with him across the dimly lit highway. The three of us—me in a dress and colorful tights, the deputies with flashlights and holsters—walked with him. Approaching traffic slowed to give us room.

As the fawn gained strength and steadiness, perhaps shaking off the fog of a concussion, I guided him up a grass embankment. As he tried to turn back into the road, I reoriented his body away from the highway and gave him some parting advice. "Go uphill," I said. "Find a quiet patch of grass. Rest and get better."

I'd like to think he's lying in some tall grass now, sleeping off a headache and dreaming about looking both ways before crossing the road.


Update: I have heard from so many people who saw the accident, or expressed interest in helping to transport the deer to a vet facility. I want to let readers know that on the night of the incident described below, I wanted to secure the deer in my vehicle and transport him to Sarvey Wildlife Rehabilitation. The responding officers felt that would create unsafe driving conditions. I also offered to go home and get a large kennel in which to transport him, but that idea was vetoed as well.

For those wondering how to help injured deer on Whidbey, I recommend contacting Sarvey and Wolf Hollow. I also recommend that, when transferring injured wildlife to the mainland, you let the ferry staff know—in the event of a long line, they will allow expedited boarding for emergencies. Dr. Parent in Freeland and Best Friends in Oak Harbor both provide veterinary care for wild small mammals and birds, free of charge. 


  1. Fantastic, vivid visuals accompanied my thoughts as I read this, Marnie. Your writing captured this heart wrenching moment as if I was there, too, watching this take place. Well done.

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  3. Marnie, you’ve done another beautiful thing and I love you for the trust you have in your gifts with all creatures. And writing. <3
    Blue Page (aka Susan)


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