“Oh, lovely, gentle, unobtrusive mule” (deer)*

The unassuming mule deer is sometimes called the grey ghost of the forest (a nickname it shares with the unrelated African kudu).

They are a sub-species of black-tailed deer, Odocoileus hemionus, and are limited to areas west of the Missouri River, in contrast to the white-tailed deer, Odocoileus virginianus, found over most of the eastern US, but rare in the West. (though we did see one! ). The mule deer’s tail isn’t actually black, which would make it useless as an alarm mechanism, but it has a black tip:

They’re called mule deer because of their large mule-like ears:

Here is an actual mule for comparison!

When an adult male materializes out of the forest he is imposing, even at a mere 3 1/2 feet at the shoulder (much smaller than an elk). He can still weigh in at up to 330 lbs.

and he can have pretty large antlers, this one has six points:

Their facial masks vary widely, and some have black lines down their spine or at the base of their tail. The male above has rather quizzical “eyebrows” that reminded me of Mr. Bean. The young 3-point male below has a chic black V on his forehead and a black spinal stripe:

The young are usually born starting in late May and are now 3-4 months old, miniatures of their doting parents:

Sometimes romance seems to have been delayed, and this fawn still has its reddish color and its spots, meaning it can’t be more than 2 1/2 months old.

Winter will be a challenge: this fawn will have to keep up since they can migrate as much as 150 miles south (one travelled 240 miles), the longest land migration of any ungulate in the Lower 48.

*Mules tend not to get a good press, but my title is from a poem written to a pet mule. It is not great poetry, nor is it about a mule deer, but I include it here to demonstrate that even a mule can be loved by someone. The newspaper observes that “it is in blank verse, which seems to be the only literary method for successfully treating the mule.”

Wrexham and Denbighshire Advertiser, 1891
By Bill Nye

Oh, lovely, gentle, unobtrusive mule,
Thou standest idly, ‘gainst the azure sky,
And sweetly, sadly singest like a hired man.
Who taught thee thus to warble
In the noontide heat and wrestle with
Thy deep, corroding grief and joyless woe?
Who taught thy simple heart
Its pent-up wildly warring waste
Of wanton woe to carol forth upon the silent air?

I chide thee not, because thy
Song fraught is with grief-embittered
Monotone and joyless minor chords
Of wild, imported melody for thou
Art restless, woe-begirt, and
Compassed round about with gloom,
Thou timid, trusting orphan mule!

Few joys, indeed, are thine,
Thou thrice-bestricken, madly
Mournful, melancholy mule.
And he alone who strews
Thy pathway with his cold remains
Can give the recompense
Of festering and injurious woe.
He who hath sought to steer
Thy limber, yielding tail
Anigh thy crupper band
Hath given thee joy, and he alone.
‘Tis true, he may have shot
Athwart the zodiac, and, looking
O’er the outer walls upon The New Jerusalem,
have uttered vain regrets;
Thou reckest not, O orphan mule,
For it hath given thee joy, and
Bound about thy bursting heart,
And held thy tottering reason
To its throne.

Sing on, O mule, and warble In the twilight grey,
Unchidden by the heartless throng.
Sing of thy parents on thy father’s side,
Yearn for the days now past and gone,
For he who pens these halting,
Limping lines to thee
Doth bid thee yearn and yearn and yearn.

3 thoughts on ““Oh, lovely, gentle, unobtrusive mule” (deer)*”

  1. Oh my. The photos are wonderful, as always, and your comments fill them with extra relevance. But the poetry! Who knew there was a classic ode to the mule! Brilliant discovery!


  2. Well camouflaged amongst the pines…they must have excellent hearing. I hope the fawn stays well protected with it’s parents. I like the eye brow comparison to Mr Bean 🤣🤯


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