Look how the doe and her daughter come over the hill in the fog. She comes first, clears the sage, and stops. This puts her daughter behind, screened by the bush. There’s about a half body length between them. Even if she sees you, she will walk that far before stopping, but slowly, very slowly. My observations are that does like to stop where there are multiple avenues of escape, and they prefer to lead you away and spare the child. The showing of the body is, thus, vital here.
When she leaves, her daughter closes up. Slowly, the child grows into the parent.
Notice how if they come up side by side, the daughter’s shorter height puts her in the weedy zone. Might be an accident, but I dunno. Makes a lot of sense, if I am right and the doe wants to be seen and to remain free to hear. This positioning will allow her to cut to her left, and for the daughter to quickly close up behind. As they have come uphill obliquely from my left, this is the quickest way to make a circle and retreat together, with the mother blocking the child as they make the turn.
Now look at a few of them together below (there are more uphill already). The group ahead came up in the same way, but now they have passed into movement, which is faster and in step. They close up. The two does are sliding past each other, which allows the yearling to vanish into the back doe for a moment, before they move in a doe-yearling-doe line. The yearling is keeping close to her mother’s flank, half a body length back. She is about to disappear in plain sight.
So many times, I have seen the young ones step ahead of the doe in just the same way, passing slowly past her, while she watches from the middle of a line of twins, or even from the back, but never breaking the half body length rule, except when grazing, which extends nesting behaviour, which tends to be in a four-body-length rule. Then the distance can stretch, yet the doe is more watchful, ready to intervene at any moment: not to move towards her child but to move towards an intruder, so that the child can slide behind her uphill. Again, the game is to be seen. She will then turn and quickly close the distance with her child, and they will go up, two together.
It looks to me like deer are learning to find protection, leave it, walk in line, to take the lead, to herd, and to replace their mothers, all according to mother-child bonds stretching through the linear space defined by their long, angular legs, their ears and manipulation of visibility through outline, speed and slowness, gauged to the cognitive processes of predators — even mine. Aren’t they beautiful with this language of bodies in space and time! I believe that human intelligence is no less intimately linked to body and environment. We will return to that discussion tomorrow, after our week’s walkabout!