A walk to nowhere – one step closer (Richmond Park – Deer Haven)

One way to unwind from all complexities around us, is to just take a walk in a place splendid yet primitive, a well conserved place like one of those in the Royal Parks in London. There are eight Royal Parks in London and the biggest of them all is Richmond Park, having an area of 2500 acres (more than 1000 hectares). That is massive. It is a top UK site for ancient trees and a range of rare species including fungi, birds, beetles, bats, grasses, wildflowers and herds of deer. That is the reason why I and my friend, Zen, went there, to see deer.

I have travelled from the north to south of the Philippines. I saw caves, mountains, beaches, and forests, they were all stunning. I had seen alluring sunsets, virgin waterfalls and rivers where my grandparents used to live. While I was staying at my grandparents’ house as a child, the “Aetas” of Sierra Madre often came down from the mountain to barter trade with people who lived in the mountainside where we were then. Our favourite was “pindang na usa” (Venison jerky or dried cured venison). Aetas are indigenous people who live in isolated mountainous parts on the island of Luzon. They are known as descendants of the original inhabitants of the Philippines. At a young age, I was curious, asking myself what a deer was.

I am grateful to England’s King Charles I for making Richmond Park a deer park. I like to see deer, apart from my curiosity as a child, I also once read this passage in the bible ‘He made my feet like the feet of a deer and set me secure on the heights.’ It was at my place of work during a lunch break and before my afternoon nap when I read that. It is so clear in my memory as if it happened only yesterday. What did this really mean I always asked myself, and why deer?

Our ‘deer hunting’ begun. We took the London Underground Train going to Richmond. You can also get there through London Overground or by London buses. Zen and I checked the night before to find out how to get there the easiest way knowing there are several gates leading to this park. Upon reaching the station, none of the buses that we were supposed to take u which was suggested on our cell phone information was there! I thought to myself, “if you feel lost and your modern gadget couldn’t help you the best thing is to ask help from the locals, the experts”. We approached an older lady in her 70’s or 80’s and she told us which bus to take. Gadgets are cool and modern but the knowledge of our elderly and those who are old fashioned are equally relevant. For young generations so engrossed with electronic gadgets, earlier generations had far more exciting experiences that I think younger generations should explore and appreciate.

Finally, we reached our destination. Looking towards the horizon, the park is enormous. There is a map located in the park but the map doesn’t indicate where one can find the deer because they roam around freely, whenever and wherever they want to go. The park is theirs.

“Where do we go from here?”, Zen asked. She suggested a direction, I checked the ground and found several small piles of dirt coming from deer. I agreed to go that path because there was a sign that the deer passed that way just recently. We walked for hours and miles but it seemed the deer were nowhere to be found. And it felt like the purpose of our coming was not going to be served. God has a way of giving hope, He will give a sign even if one doesn’t ask. We wished and prayed to find at least one deer. Along the way we found old oak trees having trunks with diameters equal to size of five human beings standing side by side in a circle, they seemed to be centuries old. The cool breeze, sunshine, blue sky and different shapes of clouds were the sight that gave us comfort to enjoy our deer hunting escapade. There are wild flowers, butterflies and other insects one will not see in the city. We sat down on old trees lying there to rest a bit before we continued searching. Finally, from afar Zen saw an image that looked like a deer. At first, I doubted and thought it was a dog and not a deer. We ran to look further and found that there were herds of deer. We were not sure which among them were Red or Fallow deer. What we were sure of was that they were female deer and their fawn. We prayed for one, but found more than a hundred! We got as close as we can and they were looking at us too. But then we asked why there were no deer with antlers. Then among a herd we found one with six inch long antlers, and we asked why it was small. Then we started laughing. We only prayed for one deer then God showed us hundreds yet we complained and had to look for deer with antlers. I observed as much as I can to answer my question: “Why was it a deer and not a mountain lion mentioned in the Bible that was to stand on the mountain to describe a victory over the enemy in the most difficult and dangerous terrain?”

We headed back home. My friend used her compass but remembered only North-East but not the exact degree in North-East. As a result, we got lost. As we finally found our way out, we jumped for joy because we found herds of bucks and stags — hundreds of them too. The sizes of antlers varied. Male deer with multiple branched and shaped bones on top of their heads is an amazing sight. The view and their movements are picturesque. We both agreed that that was the reason why we lost our way back through the gate we entered from.

A day of observation gave the answer to my nagging question. Why deer not mountain lion? Fallow deer try to stay together in group of up to 150. They are agile and fast to escape in case of danger. They tend to maintain loose groupings when tamed and basically all rise up together, moving to the grazing area, and after grazing return to their favorite spot. Generally, dominant leaders establish the route that extend in an almost straight line. There seems to be a steady relationship between age and social rank. Mature male fallow deer or bucks spend most of their time alone or in bachelor groups until it is time for rutting or breeding. The newly born are hidden by their mothers among the bracken and long grass. The young are very vulnerable and their mothers are alert to any disturbance, ready to defend their babies. Leadership is usually established by the lead hind, helped by a second female, who assumes a rear-guard position during group movement. These descriptions by an expert, about the behavior of deer we observed to be true and accurate. We also noticed that under the intense heat of the sun and after grazing the stags or bucks group together as if there was a maestro who instructs them all to sit under the shade of a big tree.

How about mountain lions which can stand on the mountain like deer? They are known as ambush hunters silently following the prey and attack quickly by surprise. Now I know the other aspect to my analogy. The mountain lion attacks the weak deceitfully and claims victory alone for its own selfish benefit. Whereas, the victory of the deer to stand at the height of the mountain signifies the victory of the herd, their family, their group, the leader and followers, all for their common good.

That was a great adventure. At times, it seemed we were walking in a place of nowhere but simple things we saw along our way, like yellow wildflowers, tall brown grass, an old oak tree were one step closer to the very reason we were there. We had the choice to turn back and retreat when we got tired or keep going and appreciate the journey itself. Choosing the latter gave us endearing fulfilment. Finding an answer to a meaningful question, contemplating how a deer behaves so well in unity than most civilized human beings, an oak tree standing tall and mighty to give shade and comfort to herds of deer gave us a great lesson. God’s creation is meant to be in harmony. In our life’s nowhere, when we believe in the Living God, our compass is Jesus. His needle that aligns and points towards a consistent sense of direction so that we will never get lost amid all frustrations is no other than the Holy Spirit. At the beginning, it did not seem obvious but every turn of events demonstrated an invisible guide in this simple tour. My curiosity since childhood was satisfied through visiting a historic park which has looked after its deer since 1637. There are other things to see and do. Isabella Plantation which is fenced and can easily be located is where we can enjoy beautiful ornamental plants. Richmond Park, is of a national and international significance for wildlife conservation. It is London’s largest Site of Special Scientific Interest, a National Nature Reserve and a Special Area of Conservation. It is worth spending your time there when you come to visit London. Photos by Gilda Pineda Dionela