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The Deer Lay Down Their Bones

Updated: Mar 9




On a walk along the creek in mid-January, we found a deer laying on the island. We wondered how the deer got to the island because the creek is wide and fast-moving. We concluded that the deer found refuge on the island in escaping the hunter, to die in peace. Later I remembered this poem by Robinson Jeffers (1887-1962):



I follow the narrow cliffside trail half way up the mountain

Above the deep river-canyon. There was a little cataract crossed path,

flinging itself

Over tree roots and rocks, shaking the jeweled fern-fronds, bright bubbling water

Pure from the mountain, but a bad smell came up. Wondering at it

I clambered down the steep stream

Some forty feet, and found in the midst of brush-oak and laurel,

Hung like a bird's nest on the precipice brink a small hidden clearing,

Grass and a shallow pool. But all about there were bones lying in the grass,

clean bones and stinking bones,

Antlers and bones: I understood that the place was a refuge for

wounded deer; there are so many

Hurt ones escape the hunters and limp away to lie hidden, here they have

water for the awful thirst

And peace to die in; dense green laurel and grim cliff

Make sanctuary, and a sweet wind blows upward from the deep gorge.—

I wish my bones were with theirs.


But that's a foolish thing to confess, and a little cowardly. We know that life

Is on the whole quite equally good and bad, mostly gray neutral, and can be endured

To the dim end, no matter what magic of grass, water and precipice, and pain of wounds,

Make death death look dear. We have been given life and have used it—not a great gift perhaps—but in honesty

Should use it all. Mine's empty since my love died—Empty? The flame-haired grandchild with great blue eyes

That look like hers?—What can I do for the child? I gaze at her and wonder

what sort of man

In the fall of the world... I am growing old, that is the trouble. My

children and little grandchildren

Will find their way, and why should I wait ten years yet, having lived

sixty-seven, ten years more or less,

Before I crawl out on a ledge of rock and die snapping, like a wolf

Who has lost his mate?—I am bound by my own thirty-year-old decision:

who drinks wine

Should take the dregs; even in the bitter lees and sediment

New discovery may lie. The deer in that beautiful place lay down their

bones: I must wear mine.




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