Guest Columnist

Gentle animals giving us hope

Photo by Dorothy O'Brien
Photo by Dorothy O’Brien

The doe looks a little scruffy, healthy but scruffy, like she got hung up in some plant or other that clung to her fur. Over the years whenever there is iced snow on the ground I do something some might condemn, I pour alfalfa pellets on the snow near my drive to help deer get through the winter.

A few days ago my attorney made a trip out to the country to get my signature on some documents and I watched out the back as she pulled in the drive. What happened next surprised me. A late-season small doe was munching on the alfalfa and she didn’t move as my attorney pulled in. Then she (my attorney) got out of her vehicle, walked up to the little doe, chatted with her, got within three feet, and took a photo. I don’t think she tried to offer the little one a business card, but with lawyers whoever knows. The doe never moved. Her need for food was greater than her fear of humans in general and lawyers in particular.

During a soft winter snow a few days back my kitten Luna leapt onto a windowsill and began chatting in the way cats do, clearly entranced by something outside. Dozens of brilliant blue and tan barn swallows were in a cedar tree by the house, flitting about, snow feathering to the ground. Not sure why they were here rather than South America where they usually hang out in the bleak midwinter. These things concern me.

Here’s some news you likely missed. In Missouri a woman named Helen Jackson died at the age of 101. In itself her death is not unusual, but in this case Ms Jackson was the last surviving Civil War widow. In 1936, in the midst of the Depression, she married a neighbor who promised her his soldier pension. She was 17. He was 93. A few years later he died and she never remarried. It is a remarkable story, a story reminding us that the past is much closer than we think.

On a totally different note, have I told you about my tattoo? You didn’t know I had one? I went to a young woman tattoo artist in a mid-sized city about 35 miles from here, where she did the work. I saw her photo in a newspaper recently and noted that she is no longer a tattoo artist, now calling herself a ‘body modificationist.’ Uh, OK.

You see, a number of years ago I had my wife’s name inked onto my right biceps. At the time she was walking down the trail of Alzheimer’s and I knew there would be moments when she’d say things like, “I don’t know why you don’t leave me.” I was able to say to her, “if I was ever going to leave you I certainly wouldn’t have gotten this tattoo,” then show it to her. We’d laugh as we always did, like it was the funniest thing on earth. One of the best things I ever did.

Back to the little doe. We as humans work hard to develop meaningful relationships. Well, most of us do. As I watched my lawyer chatting with a wild creature I thought about the Harry Potter books, wherein each person has a Patronus, a positive force within every good person, usually in the form of a gentle animal, an animal with us at all times, giving us the will to survive and the ability to always be hopeful. Harry Potter’s mother’s Patronus was a doe. So is mine.

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Kurt Ullrich lives in rural Jackson County. His book “The Iowa State Fair” is available from the University of Iowa Press.

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