Several years ago, on a crisp winter morning, I was loitering with my Kangal dog Otto in a far, not often visited, corner of our ranch. Both Otto and I have a special fondness for the hidden copses of Spanish Oak there, looking just a little bit different every time you come by. The play of light and shadow across these groups of tallish trees, with the bushy undergrowth of Agarita and the delicate filigree of Persimmon trees, set a different mood according to season and time of day. Otto, on the other hand, much preferred to check on the critters populating the area.
I will always remember this particular morning with special fondness. Leaving my secret forest, one enters into a much more open, almost pasture-like landscape. In the Spring this whole area, dotted with Mesquite trees and clumps of Opuntia cactus, turns into a riot of yellow and burgundy Mexican Hat wildflowers and the dogs just love to run and run, chasing each other, or a convenient rabbit. Not this morning, of course, the flowers had long matted down to a dull green, edged with frost here and there, which sent little starbursts of reflected sunlight from the rising sun. The land is flat here, slopping down a little toward an as yet invisible, rocky dry wash, ultimately being framed by a crescent-shaped ridge in the far distance. This ridge is not very impressive, just about 100 feet high. Like everything else out here, its overgrown with Scrub Oak and Ash Juniper, and every conceivable species of prickly, thorny, ornery vegetation you can possibly imagine. At the northerly edge of the ridge, however, right were our land meets our neighbor’s to the North, the ridge is just a sheer rock wall, only goats and deer like to negotiate.
Hiking across the meadow, I enjoyed this far view, with the distant ridge drifting in and out of view through swirling mists. Suddenly, one such swirl parted to reveal a brilliantly white, horned aberration right at the very edge of the rock wall. A Unicorn! It was standing motionless for a few seconds, before being swallowed again by the morning fog. Mysterious and lovely and, oh, so Avalon. I was mesmerized for a while, searching in vain for another glimpse. Otto noticed nothing.
And before your sniggers and chuckles get out of hand, yes, I do realize, it was a white Fallow buck.
I have a sad reason to write about this today. Because today, I saw two white Fallow bucks standing close together near the road, on which I was driving. As I approached, they turned to trot off, and again the morning sun highlighted brilliant white coats. But today, there was no magic. Instead, the harsh light showed the stark outlines of their entire ribcages, every single rib sharply protruding. Pointy hipbones painfully stretching the white hide of these drought-starved animals into their own, personal ridge.
My Unicorns are dying.