I’ve been writing about various facets of the natural world for the newsletter of the Nature education non-profit I started in the Mountain Park in Beulah, my small southern Colorado town, for a long time. The recent issue that was just published begins the eighteenth year of the Mountain Park News. I can recall writing articles on all sorts of birds and wildflowers, bears, trees, mountain lions, pronghorn, bobcat, pleasing fungus beetles, squirrels, owls, biological soil crusts…but, surprisingly, I don’t recall ever writing about one of the area’s most common and iconic species, Odocileus hemionus. If my memory is correct, the pages of Mountain Park News never included an article specifically about mule deer. As of the recent issue, that is no longer the case.
There has been much statewide press about the significant population decline of mule deer in Colorado over the past decade. According to a recent Denver Post article, mule deer population estimates in Colorado are down about 36 percent, from 614,100 in 2005 to 390,600 in 201 (compared to a 10% decrease across the entire western US). Disease, habitat loss due to development encroachment, and road mortality are among the likely reasons for the decline according to Colorado Parks and Wildlife. Well, maybe they should do a count in Beulah; considering how many deer with the big ears and short, black-tipped tail there are in the valley, maybe all those missing mule deer are all hanging out here. It is a rare day that I don’t see several mule deer while driving or walking in Beulah.
Just the other day, on a windy and chilly late afternoon walk in the park, I came across eight deer – one young buck, a few does, and several adolescents – that watched me but hardly seemed concerned about me as I walked by within around 20 feet of the closest one. A couple weeks ago, I was walking down the steps to my house (which is just across the road from the park). Looking at my mail and not paying much attention as I’ve walked down these steps a million times, I looked up to see a doe no more than ten feet in front of me, standing on the steps. I stopped. She turned and took a couple of step towards me. Hmm. I’ve seen video clips of how aggressive deer can be. So I backed up a few steps, made some noise, and she finally ambled off. Slowly.
The minimal snow so far this season is keeping the dried forbs and grasses readily available for our area’s mule deer to fatten up on as the winter approaches. When the snow cover is deep, shrubs and trees make up most of their diet. I recall many times being out in the park on skis or snowshoes on cold days with the landscape covered in deep snow. Working hard to keep myself warm, I’d watch deer bite the needles off ponderosa pines and wonder how many calories they are were actually getting from those needles that would get them through the cold night ahead. Mountain mahogany and Gambel oak are also common winter foods for mule deer in the park.
Yes, mule deer are common and I see them pretty much every day. They are a very familiar part of my daily life here in Beulah. Hence, mule deer give me daily opportunities to apply Vuja de. The opposite of Déjà vu, the sensation that an experience currently being experienced has already been experienced, Vuja de is the act of seeing something familiar with a fresh view. I love keeping the idea of Vuja de alive in my life. It helps me to see the familiar – my home, my loved ones, my everyday world – with fresh eyes. Vuja de reminds me to see each day and everything in it as a special gift. Because each day that I am alive, each day that I get to see my home, my family, my world, and mule deer, is, indeed, a special gift.