The Deer’s Path


Mayumi Oda

Excert from I Opened The Gate, Laughing.
Illustrations by Mayumi Oda.
Originally published in The Evergreen Review Issue 106 in 2003.

One summer day when I went into the garden, I felt called by the creek.

I put on long rubber boots and opened the gate to the woods. The stream was almost dry and showed its pebbly bottom, but some water was still running. I had forgotten how wonderful and mysterious it was in the woods. The trees seemed to absorb all the noise and craziness outside. The alders were as tall as seventy feet, making a high green canopy, and underneath grew buckeye trees, hung with silver lichen, and pungent laurel and elderberries. A fat gray owl flew across under the canopy and frightened me.

I waded down the creek bed and came upon a quiet, deep pool. I took my clothes off and plunged in. The water was ice cold and smelled like alder lye.

Floating, I noticed at the muddy corner of the pool many deer footprints, small and large, sliding into the water. A family of deer must come here to drink, I thought. The place felt sacred and protected and I even thought I could smell the musky scent of their bodies. I could see the path they used to come through the woods.


Then I realized I was following the path, through bushes, pushing aside ferns and prickly nettles, passing old fallen trees that were decaying and turning into soil. I was amazed how noise and soft the ground was. The path became narrow and low, and I had to bend down to walk through.

Suddenly I was on the other side of the fence. I saw my pink house in the distance. I stood there and saw my garden through a deer's eyes.

The garden theta I loved so much looked ridiculous to me. It had the self-conscious stiffness of a proper English garden. And now in the summer heat it looked dry and completely alien from the wild green of the alder grove surrounding it, as though it did not belong in this mysterious valley at all. I was dumbfounded. I had worked so hard, for seven years, making my own paradise, putting a fence around it to keep the deer away.


In this garden I had felt safe and protected. In this sanctuary I had sewn my torn pieces back together and found my wholeness. All these years I had been trying to re-create the exquisite moment of utter freedom that I felt as a child, across the river, in the field full of dandelions and clover. But now I had taken the deer's path and had seen the other side of my fence.

There were several gates around the fence. I opened them all. I felt energy from the woods and from everywhere pouring into my garden and into me. I was ecstatic. I did not need barriers to protect myself anymore. I started to laugh, hard, and ran into my garden, uttering "Thank you, thank you."

At that moment, my garden at Muir Beach became interwoven with that timeless playground of my childhood. The whole world became my garden . I decided to take the fence down.