Otis & Friends 4I’m Otis, Prairiewoods’ favorite squirrel, and I’ve taken over this blog for 2016 in honor of Prairiewoods’ 20th anniversary. You’ll hear from me or one of my friends each Friday.

One dear friend is the deer-loving Joni Reed Cooley. As Prairiewoods’ Artist in Residence, she often spends a week at a time in the Prairiewoods Guest House. She photographs many of us natural creatures, and then we peer through the window to see her transforming the photographs into realistic paintings. We marvel at her talent and like that she tells our story through her art. Here she talks about an encounter with the deer herd that calls Prairiewoods home …

Prairiewoods offers so many opportunities for wonders to be discovered. One of my favorite treasures is the abundant wildlife. Whenever I am walking in the woods and stopping to reflect in the stillness, I am also hoping to catch a glimpse of some of the animals. I keep my eyes open for my special favorites: the deer, turkeys and groundhogs, and of course Otis and his adorable squirrel chums. It is humbling to remember that they are always aware of me moving in the woods, but I don’t often know where they are.

Watching the deer is a special highlight for me at Prairiewoods. Their silent beauty and somewhat awkward grace brings me a sense of peace and knowing that all is right in the world. Their spirit is quiet and calm. Whenever I see a deer, I think, There goes another one of God’s miracles. The deer are my personal favorites, and I never tire of watching them. I have taken many deer photos and have painted them too, hoping to reflect some of their wonderful spirit.

One amazing experience with the deer stands out in my mind. During a late fall stay at Prairiewoods, I was thrilled to see the deer stroll past my Guest House room window before dusk. On this calm night, there were perhaps 15 does and young ones, each sauntering slowly past and sometimes looking in the window at me. I was enjoying observing their individual personalities as they casually gathered to graze under the pines around the corner. Some would walk by slowly and confidently, some would be skittish and move quickly past me, and some would stop to peer at me through the window as if wondering what I was doing. It was a peaceful scene as I watched their slow, silent progression one by one.

Deer at Prairiewoods by Joni Reed CooleySuddenly there was a great commotion, and a large doe came flying out of the woods, running at full speed toward the group of deer. She frantically galloped around them twice in full circles, as if “buzzing” them or rounding them up. The group became very agitated and started closing into a circle formation. They were all clearly on alert, jittery and moving erratically. I stood watching in astonishment. After the doe’s second frantic run around them, she shot past my window again and back into the woods, where I could see her continuing to run in her panic, until she was out of my view.

The group of deer continued to be jumpy and alert, and they remained in that circular grouping. I could see them from the hall window, and wondered what in the world was going on. I wished I could understand what the doe had communicated to them. I moved back into my room a few minutes later, and was soon about to find out.

Read part two in next week’s blog to learn what happened next!

—by Joni Reed Cooley, Artist in Residence