A distant sinking sun glowed white behind trees on the horizon, but both the sun and horizon had been swallowed by blue-gray mist by the time I arrived at the shore.
When I parked the car, Sam Smith’s “Stay With Me” was playing on the radio, providing a soundtrack for my trek. (I would be away so long that when I turned the key in the ignition on the way back, the same song resumed.)
Others, no doubt more attentive to the weather than I, had stayed home.
Not a single human was in sight when I began the trek toward the Drowned Forest, which emerges only at low tide, when the ocean washes away to show a network of coniferous trees’ roots.
But then I saw a glimmer of movement, behind a tree to my left as the path rounded its first corner. Something more than wind. I looked more closely.
A deer with enormous black eyes stepped out onto the path in front of me, looked directly at me, and tilted its head.
We looked at each other, but when I raised my camera it fled into the woods and disappeared.
So there I stood in thickening fog, talking to a deer.
Please don’t go. Please come back.
Its departure made me inexplicably, ineffably sad.
I trudged on among trees skeletonized by salt water, branches gleamed like whale bones even without sunlight.
Softly, then with no sound, Please come back.
But it didn’t.
I ventured down every path–partly due to the combination of falling darkness and my geographic ineptitude, and eventually realized that not only was I lost, but I had flipped on the wrong setting on my new camera. I adjusted it and followed the ocean’s sounds to get back to a familiar path.
Finally I emerged back where I had started, by a path framed with short stone walls, precisely where Jim had squatted with his camera to take photographs the last time we walked there.
By then it was eerily dark. The night’s symphony had emerged overhead in the trees.
I hadn’t noticed this before: it must be new. Right where Jim had rested during his final autumn, just a few feet away from me, was a statue of a young deer.
Only it wasn’t a statue.
It moved towards me. It didn’t run. It stayed until I was ready to let it go.