A once in a lifetime experience for two boys and me.
Following a couple of days of rain, it was a beautiful Saturday morning in early June. The bright sun shining in the spotless blue sky was a welcome sight. My wife and her friend dropped off my son Casey, his friend Jarrett, and me all at the bridge in the small town of Metamora. The women planned on visiting the shops in the small historical town while us guys would be canoeing. The boys grabbed their life jackets and headed for the river, leaving the rest of the gear for me to carry. I didn’t mind, since it was the last day Jarrett would be with us before returning home to Texas with his mom.
Jarrett had canoed with Casey and me a few times before when we lived in Texas. For this trip, he brought a waterproof, disposable camera, hoping to get some pictures to take home. With the gear loaded and the boys in their seats, I shoved off. Quickly we hit some small ripples, causing a little water to splash up on the bow. Both boys knew immediately this was going to be a lot better than anywhere they had canoed in Texas. The current remained swift as the ripples leveled off to an even flow. We all took in the beautiful scenery the river had to offer. At the first bend in the river, we came upon a family of geese. Jarrett took his first photo.
We continued seeing various wildlife, Huron Cranes, turtles, buzzards, the usual river critters. It was around 1:00 in the afternoon, and we had been paddling about an hour. Then I spotted her. A big doe standing at the river’s edge. As I was whispering to the boys to look at the deer, I spotted the new fawn beside her. Casey blurted out, “I see a baby deer too!” Jarrett picked up his camera and took a couple snapshots.
The doe appeared to be taking the fawn out for an afternoon stroll. Appearing to be about a month old, the little fawn was likely seeing the river for his first time. I considered the fact that the doe only had one fawn with her. She may appreciate having only one fawn this year, rather than the more common two. She was enjoying teaching the young deer about the forest and its surroundings. Today, the mother deer knew it was time for the yearling to see the river.
Within seconds of us spotting the deer, the fawn spotted us. He immediately jerked his head up and peered at us, as if to say, “What’s that?” His mother had no time to tell him to stay back, as he jumped into the river. The current swept the fawn downstream about twenty feet. Then, the little feller caught his footing and leaped onto a little sand bar in the middle of the river. His mother stood frozen, her eyes bulging from her head, and ears standing tall. I could sense her concern for her baby. She had not planned on exposing her fawn to humans yet, but now it was too late. The fawn’s curiosity was too great. With little hesitation, he jumped from the sand bar into the river’s main current.
The fawn realized the water was faster, and deeper. He couldn’t touch bottom. His legs kicked as fast as they could, taking him further out into the river. I could not believe my eyes, and I feared for the life of the fawn. Averaging a six-foot drop per mile, the Whitewater River is the fastest river in the state of Indiana. I back-paddled the canoe against the current to hold our position. We had a ring-side seat to this fantastic show. The two young boys and I watched in awe of the little fawn struggling against the current. Despite my effort to hold our position, we drifted downstream away from the fawn’s mother. The fawn and our canoe entered a bend in the river, and now we could no longer see the doe, nor could she see the little fawn.
To my amazement the little guy made it across the river, but did not climb the bank. The fawn’s curiosity remained unsatisfied. He began to run along the bank, downstream towards us. I thought to myself, “Oh no!”, and quickly turned the canoe closer to the fawn’s side of the river. I pointed the bow of the canoe upstream, paddling hard and hugging the shoreline to overcome the strong current. My plan worked. I appeared to block his path and forced him to get up on shore. I tried to reduce the distance we traveled away from the fawn’s mother. I continued to glance along the opposite shore, expecting to see her watching over her fawn. The doe was nowhere in sight. The fawn continued to get closer to us and Jarrett continued to take pictures.
Now, only about 30 feet away from us, the fawn entered the river again. He swam towards us. Closer and closer, until I thought he was going to try and climb into our canoe. I tried to think fast about what I would do if he did. Now, broadside to us and only six-feet away. The fawn lifted his tired head, cocked it a little to one side, and gave us a very good, direct look. Perhaps we were uglier than he thought, or he got a good whiff of us. Appearing to be finally satisfied, he turned in the direction across the river, and began to swim away.
The exhaustion of the fawn was obvious. His little head barely above the water’s surface, he continued to swim toward shore. I even saw him take in a snout full of water once, and I continued to worry about him. His mother was still nowhere in sight when the fawn reached the other side. He still was not safe yet, for the bank there was steep, and muddy from the recent rains. Thankfully the river offered no challenges for us. We continued to drift backwards downstream as slow as possible. Our eyes were still glued on the little fawn. Finally, after several attempts, the little fawn drug himself up the side of a low spot along the bank of the river. He had made it. And like a dog after taking a bath, he gave a violent shake of his body, and disappeared into the woods.
I estimated we had traveled about 400 yards downstream since first spotting the deer. What we had just witnessed seemed like a three-hour movie. Reality settled back in. I was sure the fawn would call out a couple of bleats that would alert his mother, who couldn’t be far away. The doe knew the river. She knew it well. She knew the direction the river would take her fawn. And now, this little fawn knew something about the river too. I’m sure he learned a whole lot more than his mother had planned on teaching him that day.
In actual time, only about 10 minutes had passed. A “Wow” escaped from me and broke the silence. I explained to the boys that they most likely would never see anything like this during the rest of their lives. I asked Jarrett if he had taken any pictures (which I knew he did). Excited, he replied, “yes, I even got one when he was right next to the boat”.
I haven’t received the photos yet, but hope to soon. According to Jarrett, he got a good one of that fawn next to the canoe. I can hardly wait to get them. I want to tell you folks, that even at the age of 50, I was as much as excited and in awe as those two young boys with me. Whether I receive a picture or not, the movie that played before the three of us this day, will continue to play in our minds for the rest of our lives.
Authors Note: I never did receive any photos from Jarrett. There had been a mishap during their trip home that caused the camera to come open and exposed the film.