Fear itself: a backyard tragedy

(PHOTO: edited from original by David DeHetre, Flickr CC)

Aaron J. Brown

Aaron J. Brown is an Iron Range blogger, author, radio producer and columnist for the Hibbing Daily Tribune.

During a storm last winter, a pine bough fell on the chain link fence in our backyard. The tree mangled the fence, but failed to knock it down. Bending it back together as best we could we figured we’d get to fixing the fence sometime next summer.

Summer came, but the fence remained broken. Projects like this can string out for years, especially when the need for the fence is debatable. Perhaps we were more committed to the idea of a fence than to the physical reality.

One hot, buggy day in July, we were surprised to find an older fawn standing in our back yard. Near as we can tell, the fawn was trying to shake off the deer flies when, somehow, it managed to leap over the low point in our compromised fence.

We grabbed our phones and cameras. Surely something cute was about to happen as we helped the fawn find her way out of the yard.

But it’s easy for humans to lose perspective in our high functioning bubble. We weren’t friendly rescuers to this little deer, we were a serious threat. Immediately, the deer backed up and ran as hard as it could into one section of fence after another. We opened the two gates on opposite ends of the yard. Nevertheless, the fawn could only feel the threat of predators closing in. She could only see what was directly in front of her eyes.

In an act of desperation, the deer ran as fast as she could while leaning against the fence. She was looking for a weak point in the chain link. In the process, she lacerated her shoulder and face. She bled from her right eye, head and neck. No more pictures.

A red stripe formed along the fence perimeter, painted on by the deer’s own blood.

We tried giving the deer some space. Perhaps if were up on the deck, she’d see the open gates. The deer, however, continued to panic. She stopped ramming into the fence but persisted in running back and forth along the far side of the yard.

Now we tried flushing the deer out toward the gate as a group. But the deer stomped and charged through the gaps of our wall, again perceiving us as enemies, not liberators.

For a moment all you could hear was the pained heavy panting of the fawn. She limped up the hill, just slightly closer to the open gate she was blind to see. As she reached the top, she collapsed in exhaustion. I retreated into the house looking for the number for the Department of Natural Resources.

Hold on, my wife called to me. She’s up.

Finally, injured near to death and barely able to stand, the deer — now every bit as mangled as our fence — saw the open gate.

The bloody fawn limped into a forest full of brush wolves, black bears and unforgiving bacteria. We did not see her mother or sibling.

I know we tried to help, but the deer never knew that. We don’t know if it lived. We haven’t seen it since. But it bears mentioning that, if the deer died, the cause of death was not murder or suicide — but fear.

How many decisions do we make, how many views do we hold, based on fear? None, we say. But in the dark night of our souls we know the answer.

The gate is open.

Aaron J. Brown is an author and college instructor from northern Minnesota’s Iron Range. He writes the blog MinnesotaBrown.com and hosts the Great Northern Radio Show on Northern Community Radio. This piece first appeared in the Sunday, Aug. 13, 2017 edition of the Hibbing Daily Tribune.



  1. Nice article Aaron..As I’m sure you realize, this could easily be made into a wonderful sermon.🙏

  2. Thanks, Bob. You’re right, it certainly could. I appreciate the kind words.

  3. I believe it was President Franklin Roosevelt that made the statement that we have nothing to fear, but fear itself. A natural state of mind carried by each of us to some extent.

  4. Skip the DNR. Call Wildwoods.

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