Christmas tree lights flashed red, green and blue through the back window of the house and across the snow-covered backyard.
The whitetail buck lay curled up 10 feet inside the first row of little spruce trees, past the backyard's mowed border.
Couldn't tell it was a buck, though.
Two weeks prior, one antler had fallen off as the buck pushed through a narrow path in the dense buckthorn patch on the side-hill while browsing for the dark purple berries. The next day he lost the other antler. It had popped off after being tangled in a wild grape vine near the house.
Already, the two 50-cent sized spots on the buck's head, between its ears had begun to heal. There, in a few months, as springtime begins, new antlers will begin to push up against the skin.
The little patch of evergreens behind the house had been a lucky find for the buck, being driven off the top of the ridge and out of the deeper woods by hunting pressure.
Long gone were the quiet and relatively long days of early fall. As the days shortened and the breeding time became more intense, so did the presence of men in trucks and ATVs, men on foot and men in the trees.
When the buck traveled up the ridge at night during the late fall, man-scent clung to every bush and hung like a fog.
Not all man-scent was fresh scent to the buck's nose, but four-day old, three-day old, two-day old all wrapped together -- almost like walking through a huge braided rope in some places. Different scents were entwined. All spoke the same word: danger.
The buck was lucky near an ancient red oak, on the north point of the ridge.
Here, the man-scent was more like a knot in a huge vortex of old mingled scents. The man-scent was folded into and around itself. The buck could tell that one man had come here almost every day for a week. Made him nervous.
One cold clear night the buck had strayed further from home than usual and was cutting cross-country at first light, near the ancient oak. The smell of man-scent, mixed with other deer scent made him uneasy, but not enough to alter the buck's direction to the bedding area on the side-hill.
All of a sudden an enticing smell of a female deer nearing her breeding time, made the buck stop in his tracks and lift his head, even testing the alluring smell with his tongue, up against the roof of his mouth. And wrapped next to it was scent of another buck. But also -- there was too much man-scent.
Slowly step-by-step the buck worked into the wind toward the huge oak tree, drawn by the deer scent.
The enticing scent was coming from a spot near the big oak, where he had been just the day before. The buck had rubbed on a beech sapling and dug up a patch of ground with his hoof in an oval shape under a branch on the little tree. There he had methodically deposited his scent in a number of ways.
The overhanging branch was worked over with antlers, gently, and with his eye glands.
And then the end of the branch was chewed and twisted, carefully savored and not broken off, but left curled and hanging. The sapling's trunk was gored deeply, collecting a large amount of scent from the cap on the buck's head.
And the fresh, dug-up earth in the scrape was deposited with urine, pellets and hoof glandular secretions.
As the buck neared this scrape area, so full of his own scent, he was not able to resist the enticing scent of a doe nearing estrus and another buck's scent, mingled with his own.
The buck slowly, step-by-step, approached the scrape near the big oak tree. Visible waves of nervousness rippled though his muscles. When the buck stopped, he almost coiled to jump away, tensing up almost spasmodically. But then relaxed enough to take a few steps closer.
Want a better smell.
What is this?
Just a little closer.
All of a sudden a sharp noise, almost like a branch breaking, came shooting out from the oak tree, 25 yards away.
The buck coiled to spring away and in doing so, dropped down. At that instant, an arrow whizzed over his back by an inch and buried itself in the leaf-covered humus.
The buck had had a very close call.
The near miss by the arrow was certainly not the only close call that season. But the buck learned a lesson to shy away from deer scent mixed with man scent where it wasn't supposed to be and to stay away from that big oak tree.
And as the season ticked on, the buck spent more and more time behind the houses on the edge of town and away from the dangerous man-scent on top of the ridge.
Other deer who had learned the same lesson in different ways were also spending more time in the valley, close up, behind the houses, too.
And at night, walking quietly, a shadow passed the back windows and the Christmas tree lights, and bedded down in the little spruce trees.
Oak Duke can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.