I live in New Mexico now, but I can see the Great Oak clearly in my memory. I recently purchased two beautiful bowls made from its limbs that had died off, at the Arboretum Store.
I am an artist; a wildlife and abstract expressionist painter. Deer are one of my favorite subjects. I'll confess; they are more than "subjects." My kids call me Deer Stalker Lady. There are many family jokes about my life as a deer. I track, photograph, and paint mule deer, rugged alpinists. But it was white tails that I first loved, and Fred Lape who introduced me to them.
We were standing under the Great Oak as sunset approached on a beautiful late autumn day. A number of deer were browsing nearby, and more were arriving as the light faded. I was probably about five years old (I'm now 56). The valley unfolded before us. Fred was a tall man, and in my memory of that day, he is a giant. "Damn deer," he said, without much conviction. "They eat my trees. They know when it's hunting season, and they come in droves. The worse the winter, the worse they are on my trees."
We stood and watched them in silence for a long time. Fred was in no more of a hurry to leave than I was. He made no move to discourage their dining. He held my hand. We took in their graceful movements, deciphered their family relationships, and remained still and quiet.
It was the first of many deer watching expeditions to the Great Oak. Fred always repeated the half-hearted--and no doubt real--complaint about his trees. Sometimes he threatened, with no conviction, to shoot the deer. He never mentioned that they came during hunting season because he protected them. He never admitted what a pleasure it was to watch them. He taught me to be a sharp observer of wildlife, including the Arboretum's abundance of snakes and crows, to observe without alarming, and to appreciate the interconnectedness of life in the woods--lessons I'm grateful the Arboretum is still teaching each season's visitors.