The Ghost Deer of Claybanks Township
The steep wooden stairs are weathered grey with patches of green moss. Trees wearing their fading October leaves are leaning in on both sides of the stairs as we walk down. Signs next to the stairs warn of poison ivy in the underbrush. Halfway down the stairs, the trees open to a vista of sand and water. The surface of the lake is deep grey and silver reflecting the striated colors of the sky. The horizon is marked by a stormy blue ribbon of clouds. It is a cool and misty afternoon, but the rain has held off for now. When we reach the bottom of the stairs, the view up and down the lake shore is muted but clear. The high, lushly wooded, clay banks of this area shelter the beach.
The lakeshore seems deserted – no people or cottages in sight. In the summer this beach would have been full of people from the park and campground at the top of those long wooden stairs. But now, all is quiet except for lapping waves and the air moving through the trees. We walk south taking in the long expanse of open shoreline that is framed with a distant outcropping of land.
Then suddenly a deep intake of breath and “oh my gosh” as eyes and brain register the presence of a dead deer at the edge of the lake. A young buck is lying on its side, its hind legs partially covered with sand. Waves are gently rolling over its back. The buck’s body is intact but most of its fur is gone. In the absence of fur, the skin is smooth and white. The antlered head is also white with a strongly defined jawline. The eye on the side of the head that points towards the sky is open – shiny and black.
Not sure whether to look away or look more closely, we keep walking down the beach. Hints of sun breaking through the clouds now reflect in sparkling patches on the water and highlight the edges of the waves on the sand. The beach is liberally sprinkled with trunks from trees that succumbed to past winter storms. Where the sand meets the wooded bank, someone has gathered trunks and branches to fashion a lean-to shelter. We walk down the beach until a stream breaks out of the wooded banks and directs the sand into a series of waterways to the lake.
As we turn back north, I anticipate walking past the deer again. My first thought is to avert my eyes to preserve a sense of the peaceful beauty of this place. But as we draw close, I take a long look at the deer. A more careful look prompts perception to shift from seeing a generic deer to observing this particular deer. Now there are questions about his journey and how he came to be lying dead, alone on the beach.
We finish our walk further up the beach where the clay banks are replaced by dunes. We climb the dunes – back to the campground and our car.
As we drive away, the deer haunts my imagination. Perception shifts again and now the deer returns to life as the embodiment of the myriad deer and other animals that have grazed and played and lived and died along the lake. The beach in my memory no longer seems deserted, but full of life and mystery that takes place independent of human presence. The hidden world of the ghost deer invites us to consider that everywhere we walk is sacred ground.
BIO – Professionally, Cari is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and works as an individual and family therapist in a group practice. She believes that combining the best clinical skills with a strong sense of creativity and presence sets the stage for people to heal individually and in relationships.
Cari is married with three grown children and two grandchildren who bring her daily joy. She loves being outside with her husband and their dogs, spending time with family and friends, and helping lead the Taizé worship at St. Barnabas Episcopal Church in Glen Ellyn.
Cari Shields is on the board for Anawim Arts and coordinates the work on our website.