Lightfoot the Deer appeared the next morning, emerging from the Green Forest, as he stepped quietly out from a thicket and bowed to Mother Nature.
“I heard,” he said, “that my fellow four-legged friends are here to learn something about my family this morning, and thought you would not mind if I joined them.”
“Oh, please do!” exclaimed Peter Rabbit forgetting that Lightfoot had spoken to Mother Nature.
All laughed, even Mother Nature. You see, Peter was so very much in earnest, and at the same time so excited, that it really was funny.
“Peter has spoken for all of us,” said Mother Nature. “You are more than welcome, Lightfoot I am delighted to have you here and I know that the others are too. I suspect you will be more comfortable if you lie down, however before you do this I want everybody to have a good look at you. Just stand for a few minutes in that little open space where all can see you.”
Lightfoot walked over to the open space where the sun fell full on him and there he stood, a picture of grace and beauty with his appearance giving him an air of nobility. There was more than one little gasp of admiration among his little neighbors.
Mother Nature began, “Lightfoot belongs to the Deer family, as you all know, and this in turn is in the order called Ungulata, which means hoofed.”
Peter Rabbit abruptly sat up, and his ears stood up like exclamation points. “Farmer Brown’s cows have those funny feet called hoofs; are they related to Lightfoot?” he asked eagerly.
“Actually, they belong to another family, however it is in the same order. So they are distant cousins of Lightfoot,” replied Mother Nature.
“And Farmer Brown’s Pigs, what about them?” asked Chatterer the Red Squirrel.
“Yes, they also belong to that order and so are related,” explained Mother Nature
“Lightfoot,” Mother Nature continued, “is the White-tailed or Virginia Deer. You have only to look at him to know that those slim legs of his are meant for speed. He can go very fast, although not for long distances without stopping. Like Peter Rabbit he is a jumper rather than a true runner, and travels with low bounds with occasional high ones when alarmed. He can make very long and high jumps, and this is one reason he prefers to live in the Green Forest where there are fallen trees and tangles of old logs. If frightened he can leap over them, whereas his enemies must crawl under or climb over or go around them. Ordinary fences, such as Farmer Brown has built around his fields, do not bother Lightfoot in the least. He can leap over them as easily as Peter Rabbit can jump over that little log he is sitting beside.”
“Just now, because it is summer, Lightfoot’s coat is decidedly reddish in color and very handsome. In the winter it is very different.”
“I know,” spoke up Chatterer the Red Squirrel. “It is gray then. I’ve often seen Lightfoot in winter, and there isn’t a red hair on him in that season.”
“Quite right,” agreed Mother Nature. “His red coat is for summer only. Notice that Lightfoot has a black nose. That is, the tip of it is black. Beneath his chin is a black spot. A band across his nose, the inside of each ear and a circle around each eye is whitish. His throat is white and he is white beneath. Now, Peter, you are so interested in tails, tell me without looking what color Lightfoot’s tail is.”
“White, snowy white,” replied Peter promptly. “I suppose that is why he is called the White-tailed Deer.”
“Huh!” Johnny Chuck ,who happened to be sitting a little back of Lightfoot, chimed in “I don’t call it white. It has a white edge and is mostly the color of his coat.”
Now while Lightfoot had been standing there his tail had hung down, and it was as Johnny Chuck had said. Then at Johnny’s remark up flew Lightfoot’s tail, showing only the under side. It was like a pointed white flag. With it held aloft that way, no one behind Lightfoot would suspect that his whole tail was not white.
“Notice how long and fluffy the hair on that tail is,” said Mother Nature. “Mrs. Deer’s tail is just like it, and this makes it very easy for her babies to follow her in the dark. When Lightfoot is feeding or simply walking about he carries it down, but when he is frightened and bounds away, up goes that white flag. Now look at his horns. They are not true horns. The latter are hollow, while these are not. Farmer Brown’s cows have horns. Lightfoot has antlers. Just remember that. The so-called horns of all the Deer family are antlers and are not hollow. Notice how Lightfoot’s curve forward with the branches or tines on the back side.”
Of course everybody looked at Lightfoot’s crown as he held his head proudly. “What is the matter with them?” asked Whitefoot the Wood Mouse. “They look to me as if they are covered with fur. I always supposed them to be hard like bone.”
“So they will be a month from now,” explained Mother Nature, smiling down at Whitefoot. “That which you call fur will come off. He will rub it off against the trees until his antlers are polished, and there is not a trace of it left. You see Lightfoot has just grown that set this summer.”
“Do you mean those antlers?” asked Danny Meadow Mouse, looking very much puzzled. “Didn’t he have any before? How could things like those grow, anyway?”
“He loses his horns, I mean antlers, every year!” shared Jumper the Hare. “His old ones fell off late last winter. I know, for I saw him just afterward. He didn’t carry his head as proudly as he does now. He looked a lot like Mrs. Deer; you know she hasn’t any antlers.”
“Then can you tell me how could hard, bony things like those grow?” inquired Danny Meadow Mouse.
“I think I will have to explain,” said Mother Nature. “They were not hard and bony when they were growing. Just as soon as Lightfoot’s old antlers dropped off, the new ones started. They sprouted out of his head just as plants sprout out of the ground,and they were soft and very tender and filled with blood, just as all parts of your body are. At first they were just two round knobs. Then these pushed out and grew and grew. Little knobs sprang out from them and grew to make the branches you see now. All the time they were protected by a furry skin which looks a great deal like what humans call velvet. When Lightfoot’s antlers are covered with this, they are said to be in the velvet state.”
“When they had reached their full size they began to shrink and harden, so that now they are quite hard, and very soon that velvet will begin to come off. When they were growing they were so tender that Lightfoot didn’t move about any more than was necessary and kept quite by himself. He was afraid of injuring those antlers. By the time cool weather comes, Lightfoot will be quite ready to use those sharp points on anybody who gets in his way.”
“As Jumper has said, Mrs. Deer has no antlers. Otherwise she looks much like Lightfoot, save that she is not quite as big. Have any of you ever seen her babies?”
“I have,” declared Jumper, who, as you know, lives in the Green Forest just as Lightfoot does. “They are the dearest little things and look like their mother, only they have the loveliest spotted coats.”
“That is to help them to remain unseen by their predators,” explained Mother Nature. “When they lie down where the sun breaks through the trees and spots the ground with light they seem so much like their surroundings that unless they move they are not often seen even by the sharpest eyes that may pass close by. They lie with their little necks and heads stretched flat on the ground and do not move so much as a hair. You see the first thing their mother teaches them is to keep perfectly still when she leaves them.”
“When they are a few months old and able to care for themselves a little, the spots disappear. As a rule Mrs. Deer has two babies each spring. Once in a while she has three, although two is the usual. She is a good mother and always on the watch for possible danger. While they are very small she keeps them hidden in the deepest thickets. By the way, do you know that Lightfoot the Deer and Mrs. Deer are fine swimmers?”
Happy Jack Squirrel looked the surprised. “I don’t see how under the sun any one with little hoofed feet like Lightfoot’s can swim,” he said.
“Nevertheless, Lightfoot is a good swimmer and fond of the water,” replied Mother Nature. “That is one way he has of escaping his enemies. When he is hard pressed by Wolves or Dogs he makes for the nearest water and plunges in. He does not hesitate to swim across a river or even a small lake.”
“Lightfoot prefers the Green Forest where there are close thickets with open places here and there. He likes the edge of the Green Forest where he can come out in the open fields, yet be within a short distance of the protecting trees and bushes. He requires much water and so is usually found not far from a brook, pond, or river. He has a favorite drinking place and goes to drink early in the morning and just at dusk. During the day he usually sleeps hidden away in a thicket or under a windfall, coming out late in the afternoon. He feeds mostly in the early evening. He eats grass and other plants, beechnuts and acorns, leaves and twigs of certain trees, lily pads in summer and delights to get into Farmer Brown’s garden, where almost every green thing tempts him.
“Like so many others he has a hard time in winter, particularly when the snows are deep. Then he and Mrs. Deer and their children live in what is called a yard. Of course it isn’t really a yard such as Farmer Brown has. It is simply a place where they keep the snow trodden down in paths which crisscross, and is made where there is shelter and food. The food is chiefly twigs and leaves of evergreen trees. As the snow gets deeper and deeper they become held up in the yard until spring comes to melt the snow and set them free.
“Lightfoot depends for safety more on his nose and ears than on his eyes. His sense of smell is wonderful, and when he is moving about he usually goes up wind; that is, in the direction from which the wind is blowing. This is so that it will bring to him the scent of any predator that may be ahead of him. He is very clever and cunning. Often before lying down to rest he goes back a short distance to a point where he can watch his trail, so that if a predator like Old Man Coyote is following him he will have warning.”
“The White-tailed Deer is the most widely distributed of all the Deer family. He is found from the Sunny South to the great forests of the North–everywhere except in the vast open plains of the mid-west in this country. That is, he used to be. In many places he has been so hunted by man that he has disappeared. When he lives in the Sunny South he never grows to be as big as when he lives in the North.”
“These members of the Deer family belong to the round-horn branch, and are very much smaller than the members of the flat-horn branch whom I shall tell you about tomorrow.”
- For 10(!) more chapters of Lightfoot the Deer story adventures visit this LINK.
- Deer and signs of them are very common to see in your local forests or even backyards. What types of signs have you seen? Where have you seen deer? How did it feel to witness them in nature or come across signs of them having been nearby?
- Visit this LINK to see and read more about the white-tailed deer from the Mass Audubon Society.