Throughout this long dark winter, my family and I have kept a close eye out for the luxuriously speckled deer that has improbably set up housekeeping in the brushy strip between Interstate 5 and Hamilton Road between Chehalis and Napavine.
On occasion we’ve seen the uniquely colored deer, whose coloration is known as piebald. In just the past week, thanks to the time change and lighter evenings, we’ve seen her several times, calmly ruminating and masticating just a few feet from traffic whizzing by.
After I wrote about this eye-catching deer last fall, I heard from a lot of people who shared my fondness for a creature my family fondly calls the white-speckle bottomed goat-deer.
I had a lot of people emailing in reports of sightings of the deer and, in other nearby locales, a piebald buck (possibly the father or a brother). We also heard from several people who, like us, at first thought this unusually colored deer might be a goat.
William Downey said that’s what he figured it was as well when he first caught a glimpse of it with its head down and feeding. He turned around to come back on Hamilton Road and get some pictures, which is when he could see it more clearly and tell it was a doe.
Robin Hendrickson, a salesman at Washington Tractor, the John Deere dealership just across the road from the deer’s home turf, said he and other staff there had watched the deer from the time she was a fawn. It had a sibling as well, but he said neither that brother or sister, nor the mother, had been seen for quite some time.
“It’s lived its whole life in front of our store in that little section of brush and grass between Hamilton Road and I-5,” he wrote to me. “Not sure what life has in store for this little girl, but it sure has been fun watching her grow up! I can’t believe that such an animal can live her whole life in an extremely small section of green belt next to I-5.”
He said that Steve Wilber, another salesman at the tractor store, would go out during last year’s hot, dry summer with a five-gallon bucket of water almost every day to give the fawn something to drink when the natural slough water dried up.
Alicia Meehan of Winlock shared photos she took when her son, Kyrin, went out last fall to help lure the deer away from the freeway, worried the animal would get hit.
“My family and I were driving home and saw the deer on the edge of the freeway,” Meehan wrote by email. “My 8-year-old son was concerned that something so beautiful would get hit. So we turned around and parked on the road next to the freeway. My son marched through the tall thick grass and was able to coax the deer away from the freeway. It was an amazing experience for all of us.”
Many of us who have caught a glimpse of the deer from the freeway may have shared the Meehans’ concern about the deer’s safety.
From many reports, however, it seems that the deer (and perhaps family members) have been living near the freeway without incident for months, if not longer.
I’m hopeful that at this point we can safely assume that she knows enough to stay out of traffic.
We also had reports of a piebald buck as far away as Woodard Road near Napavine and the agricultural fields along the Newaukum River.
According to a state biologist I spoke with last fall, piebald coloration in a deer is unusual but not rare. It’s a recessive genetic condition, so you only see it when both parents have the gene.
Lanette Walters reported seeing a piebald buck at their home on Jackson Highway near Highway 508 in 2010. They sent a nice picture of the buck under their apple trees. He has never made a reappearance, and they speculate he might be related to the I-5 piebald deer.
I wonder if that buck might be the same one that Charles Bearden saw nearby about two years ago, west of Exit 71 as the hill turns left toward Napavine.
“He was an old deer from the looks of his rack and structure,” Bearden emailed to me. “He was a brute.”
Michele and Tref Young of Winlock sent me a photo they took of a piebald deer they saw alongside a couple of conventionally colored deer in their front yard near the intersection of Winteroad and Nikula on the outskirts of the Egg City.
Meanwhile, back in the soggy strip where our most famous piebald deer lives alongside the flow of I-5, her closest fans are enjoying the view.
Hendricksen, the John Deere salesman across the street, is looking forward to seeing what’s ahead for the deer, including the possibility of love blooming among the swamp grass.
“Rumor has it,” he emailed me last week, “there is actually another normal colored buddy with her now.”
One last thought. I think now that we’ve learned that this unique deer seems to be thriving and surviving despite living cheek-by-jowl to the freeway, I think it’s time she has a name.
Because of her proximity to the John Deere dealership, and their commendable devotion to keeping her properly hydrated during the hot summer months, let me make a humble suggestion for a proper name to give to our speckled superstar.
Ladies and gentlemen, meet Joanne Deere, the piebald princess of South Chehalis.
Brian Mittge welcomes deer of all colors, although he prefers they stay out of his garden. Drop him a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.