Navajo Night Chant

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With Winter Moon’s passage and the approach of the winter solstice just a little more than a week away I am much aware of the (potential healing) dwelling place that I inhabit that also characterizes these dark months of the year.

Unfortunately, even those who acknowledge our seasonal turnings rarely honor the dark as sacred. At the winter solstice the emphasis is still on light.

As Carol Christ writes so succinctly we manage to celebrate light at both solstices – at its apex and as its return.

This attitude reveals to me an inability to be present to dark, in both its generative and non – generative aspects. The original inhabitants of this country honored the dark months of the year very differently than westerners do. Their most important ceremonies occurred during the winter months. Both aspects of the dark were acknowledged and explicated through ceremony. What follows is a history of one of the Navajo healing ceremonies that occurs only during the winter months of the year.

The Navajo Night Chant is part of Native American religious tradition. The history of Native American cultures dates back thousands of years into prehistoric times. According to many scholars, the people who became Native Americans migrated from Asia across a land bridge that may have once connected the territories presently occupied by Alaska and Russia. The migrations, believed to have begun between 60,000 and 30,000 B. C. E., continued until approximately 4,000 B. C. E. This perspective, however, conflicts with traditional stories asserting that the Indigenous Americans have always lived in North America or that tribes moved up from the south.

The historical development of religious belief systems among Native Americans is not well known. Most of the information available was gathered by Europeans who arrived on the continent beginning in the sixteenth century. The data they recorded was fragmentary and oftentimes of questionable accuracy because the Europeans did not understand the native cultures they were trying to describe and Native Americans were reluctant to divulge details about themselves.

The nine-night ceremony known as the Night Chant or Nightway is believed to date from around 1000 B. C. E., when it was first performed by the Indians who lived in Canyon de Chelly (now eastern Arizona). It is considered to be the most sacred of all Navajo ceremonies and one of the most difficult and demanding to learn, involving the memorization of hundreds of songs, dozens of prayers, and several very complicated sand paintings. And yet the demand for Night Chants is so great that as many as fifty such ceremonies might be held during a single winter season, which lasts eighteen to twenty weeks.

The Navajo call themselves Diné, meaning” the people.” Their deities are known as the Holy People, and include Changing Woman, Talking God, the Sun, Earth, Moon, and Sky. Navajo religious practices emphasize healing rituals, in terms of curing diseases as well as healing relationships among all living things. (If ever we needed to embrace this idea it is now)

Like the Navajo Mountain Chant, the Night Chant is designed both to cure people who are ill and to restore the order and balance of human and non -human relationships within the Navajo universe. The two are not separated. Led by a trained medicine man who has served a long apprenticeship and learned the intricate and detailed practices that are essential to the chant, the ceremony itself is capable of scaring off sickness and ugliness through the use of techniques, some that shock or arouse. Once disorder has been removed, order and balance are restored through song, prayer, sand painting, and other aspects of the ceremony. It’s important to note that this is a multi-valent process.

Before the chant itself takes place, young children undergo a tribal initiation. After being stripped of their clothing and then struck with a yucca whip, young boys are allowed to see the “gods” (i.e., the dancers who impersonate the gods) without their masks for the first time. Girls are not whipped but rather touched with ears of corn covered with sprays of spruce.

On the day of the chant, crowds gather expectantly outside the lodge where rehearsals have been taking place. The outdoor area in which the ceremony will be held is cleared of spectators, and many fires are lit to take the chill out of the night air. The dancers, who represent the gods, are led in by the medicine man and the maternal grandfather of the gods, along a path of meal that has been laid down for them to follow. The patient emerges from the lodge, sprinkles the gods with meal from his or her basket, and gives each one tobacco. The medicine man intones a long prayer for the patient, repeating each phrase four times. At no time is the patient’s illness separated from the disharmony that occurs around him in Nature. Afterwards the four gods dance, moving rhythmically back and forth, hooting at the end to denote the gods’ approval.

The original Night Chant involved four teams who danced twelve times each with half-hour intervals in between-a total of ten hours. The dance movements involve two lines facing each other. Each of the six male dancers takes his female partner, dances with her to the end of the line, drops her there, and moves back to his own side. The chant itself is performed without variation and has a hypnotic effect on the listeners. The only relief is provided by the rainmaker-clown named Tonenili, who sprinkles water around and engages in other playful antics.

The medicine men who supervise the Night Chant insist that everything-each dot and line in every sand painting, each verse in every song, each feather on each mask-be arranged in exactly the same way each time the curing ceremony is performed or it will not bring about the desired result. There are probably as many active Night Chant medicine men today as at any time in Navajo history, due to the general increase in the Navajo population, the popularity of the ceremony, and the central role it plays in Navajo life and health.

There are typically twenty-four Nightway masks, although the ceremony can be performed with fewer. These masks are worn by the God Impersonators who perform the ritual dances. Some of these impersonators-Calling God, Gray God, Whistling God, Whipping God, and Humped back God among them-wear the masks of ordinary male gods with special ornaments attached at the time of the ceremony. Other masks include the yellow and blue Fringed Mouth of the Water mask, the Black and Red God masks, the Monster Slayer mask, the Talking God mask, and the Born for Water mask.

In addition to being worn by the God Impersonators who dance on the dramatic final night of the nine-day ceremony, the masks are vital to the application of many “medicines”. They also play a vital role in the initiation of the young. The masks of the female goddesses are actually worn by men, since women are not allowed to minister to the person for whom the chant is being sung.

The masks used in the Nightway ceremony are made of sacred buckskin, which must be obtained without shedding the animal’s blood. Buckskin is a symbol of life to the Navajo people.

The medicine man’s sacred bundle is made up of ceremonial items such as bags of pollen, feathers, stones, skins, pieces of mountain sheep horn, and a flint blade believed to belong to the god known as the Monster Slayer. The sacred bundle also includes gourd rattles and the sacred buckskin masks worn by the God Impersonators.

As in the Mountain Chant, sand paintings play an important role in the healing rituals of the Night Chant. Twelve different sand paintings are considered appropriate for the Nightway, of which a maximum of six are usually chosen: four large and two small. When healing personal illness the patient and his or her family normally have a say in which sand paintings are used. Each one is associated with a particular story and is accompanied by specific songs, prayers, and ceremonial procedures.

It is rarely the medicine man himself who makes the sand paintings, although he is responsible for overseeing their preparation. Usually his assistants do the actual painting, dribbling small amounts of colored sand through their fingers onto a smooth sand surface. The resulting works of art must be perfect; in other words, there can be no deviations from the design set down by the gods.

Every detail in each sand painting has a special meaning. Standard Nightway sand painting designs include First Dancers, Whirling Logs, Water Sprinklers, Fringed Mouth Gods, Black Gods, and Corn People.

The purpose of the sand paintings is to allow the recipient to absorb the powers depicted in the painting, often by sitting or sleeping on it. It is considered wrong-if not downright dangerous-to reproduce these sand paintings in any way, since they might attract the attention of the gods to a situation where no real healing is intended.

That these healings “work” within the Navajo Universe which includes all of Nature makes sense to me because one is not separated from the other.

Here are two brief excerpts of the Night Chant that I particularly like.

The first addresses the need to restore balance and harmony to a soul, spirit, body that has been diseased or left alone to deal with bad feelings that others have projected (arrows of harm) because they cannot own their own feelings, or because of a collective need to blame, two aspects of the same problem. What I like best is that there is an acknowledgement that there are gods and people who can create this psychic/physical darkness but that acknowledging this powerful personal/ mystical/mythological reality can shift both the personal and the resulting discord experienced by Nature into One of Peace.

There is also an element of absolute trust that this is so…

Restore my body for me.
Restore my mind for me.
This very day remove your spell from me.
Your spell you have removed from me.

You have taken it away for me.
Far away it has gone.

 

This second excerpt addresses the healing that occurs for the individual in the context of the whole of Nature,

 

Peacefully may I walk.
Peacefully, with abundant dark clouds, may I walk.
Peacefully with abundant showers, may I walk.
Peacefully, with abundant plants, may I walk.

Peacefully with abundant trees, may I walk.

Peacefully with abundant birds may I walk.

Peacefully with abundant animals may I walk.
Happily, on a trail of pollen, may I walk.
Happily may I walk.

As it was long ago, may I walk.
May it be beautiful before me.
May it be beautiful behind me.
May it be beautiful below me.
May it be beautiful above me.
May it be beautiful all around me.

In Beauty may I walk

In Beauty it is finished.”

 

I find that writing about this ritual has a healing effect on me. It’s as if the writing brings the ritual to life in some non – ordinary way – and so it may be.

White Rabbit Moon

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I live in the shadow

of a rabbit

who was murdered

by the dark side

of the moon –

the one whose hooded face,

whose back is always

full of gnashing teeth.

Intolerable grief leaves

my weeping body

a place too painful

to inhabit.

Intolerable loss

steals the last shreds

of hope.

Yet the longing

to be reunited

with my children

lives on.

The Circle of Life and Death

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This morning the sky was on fire before dawn even as I approached the river whose ripples reflected a purple so deep it was almost inked in charcoal – In the Bosque I noticed that one mule deer had used a juniper to scrape his antlers. Otherwise the Earth emanated precious predawn stillness except for the sound of receding river waters slipping over cobbled stones. It was mild; I thought today might be the day…

 

The greens I had tipped in prayer and gratitude on ‘the mountain where bears live’ were waiting to be woven into wreaths, and by afternoon the temperature was warm enough for me to sit on the porch under a milky December sun with my clippers and bag of greens.

 

The sweet scent of pinion wafted through the air as I began to weave my circle of life with pinion, fir, and spruce. I wove carefully cutting smaller fronds without thinking about what I was doing, but beneath my quiet mind an intention was being set to weave a new kind of wholeness back into the trees, back into our broken Earth; S/he who is crying out to be heard through each raging fire, crackling drought, mud ridden flood. My greatest fear is that no one is listening.

 

My intention is that I will listen; I will be present for the trees.

 

Frequently in dreams I hear the screams of trees being slaughtered, cut away from their loved ones, left alone to die without adequate nourishment, water, or support.

 

Here in New Mexico the cottonwoods suffered so in last year’s drought that I wept over them, never imagining that my holy place, a cathedral created from a few graceful cottonwood arms that stretched all the way to the ground would end up being ruthlessly severed and h left on the ground as a pile of useless dead limbs. I raged and sorrowed then, helpless in the face of slaughter, even after I had a dream that in the distance a whole cottonwood spread her bountiful branches over the desert floor. I was grateful the tree soul lived on, but I was grieving my loss.

 

One day about a month ago as I walked under these Matriarchs in the now parched Bosque, the cottonwoods nudged me to bring one of their broken peeled arms back to my dwelling place and to create something out of it. As I followed directions I discovered I was constructing a memorial to honor the dead. Another dream came; this one reinforced the truth that I must honor all trees, but that I needed to focus on all those that were dead or dying.

 

Finally I understood that the loss of my cottonwood cathedral might have been making the same point.

 

For many years I have been reverencing all trees at this darkest time of the year with an emphasis on evergreens because they symbolized the continuation of all life. And in my world each tree I revered became a “Tree of Life.” Weaving my wreaths in their honor was and remains an act of heartfelt prayer. Up until the present hope for a more wholesome, peaceful future has always been attached to my ‘tree of life’ prayers.

 

But this year it is different. The Earth is on Fire and I must seek a larger context – one that includes the death of all trees and Nature herself.

 

As Terry Tempest Williams states we “must feel the pain of now and not look away.”

 

I promise the trees I will do my best to stay present for their anguish, knowing that what I do for them I do for me.

 

It is hard to admit that I can no longer imagine what I can do to change any outcome – theirs or mine – we are that enmeshed.

 

I wove the above intention into my wreath and then brought it in. After placing the circle of greens on a small table I lit the wreath up in green and blue lights to honor both Earth and Sky. Life and Death. As I stood over the wreath, the scent of all the boughs filled me with a profound sense of peace.

Carol Christ… celebrating the dark

Can We Celebrate the Dark? Can We Sleep? by Carol P. Christ

According to Marija Gimbutas, the religion of Old Europe celebrated the Goddess as the power of birth, death, and regeneration in all of life. Agricultural peoples understand that seeds must be kept in a cold dark place during the winter if they are to sprout when planted in the spring. People who work hard during the long days that begin in spring, peak at midsummer, and continue through the fall, are grateful for the dark times of the year when they can rest their weary bones on long winters’ nights. Long winters’ nights are a time for dreams, a time when people gather around the hearth fire to share songs and stories that express their understanding of the meaning of the cycles of life.

The Indo-Europeans were not an agricultural people. Herders, nomads, and horseback riders, they celebrated the shining Gods of the Sky whose power was reflected in their shining bronze armor and shining bronze weapons. When the Indo-European speaking peoples entered into a Europe, they married their Sun and Sky Gods to the Earth Mother Goddesses of the people they conquered. These were unequal marriages in which the Sun was viewed as superior to the Earth. The unhappy marriage of Hera and Zeus reflects this pattern, as do the many rapes of Goddesses and nymphs recorded in Greek and Roman mythology.

The elder Goddesses who refused rape and marriage were relegated to the dark crevices of the earth, which were viewed as the entrance to the underworld. These “chthonic” Goddesses emerged from under the earth in fury, causing death and destruction. For the Old Europeans, the snakes that emerged from crevices in rocks in the springtime were harbingers of renewal and regeneration. Like seeds, they slept in a cold dark place over the winter but emerged in spring to shed their skins and lay their eggs. The underworld was understood to be a place of transformation—not as it would later become, a place of death and destruction. The snake was a symbol of regeneration, not a symbol of evil.

According to Marija Gimbutas, white was the color of death in Old Europe, while black was the color of transformation and renewal of life. The Old Europeans understood life to be cyclic. Every thing would surely die, but just as surely life would be reborn. It was the Indo-Europeans who taught us that death is an ending to be feared. And it was they who taught us that light is to be revered and darkness to be avoided at all costs. It was they who developed the light-dark binary in which white is positive and black is negative. The Indo-Europeans entered into India as well as Europe. The notion of en-lighten-ment found in Hinduism and Buddhism is a legacy of the light-dark binary of the Indo-Europeans. The Indo-Europeans were lighter-skinned than the people they conquered: thus the light-dark binary could be used to justify the dominance of the lighter-skinned warriors and kings.

The light-dark binary is pervasive in the New Age focus on light and love. There is nothing “new” in that! Those who follow earth-based spiritual paths often claim to celebrate the darkness equally with the light. But do we? Or are we still in thrall to the Indo-European glorification of white and light? We celebrate the longest day at midsummer and the longest night at midwinter. And yet there remains a difference. At midwinter we rejoice in “the return of the light.” There is no parallel celebration of “the return of the dark” at midsummer. Rather it seems that we celebrate the light at both midsummer and midwinter.

What would it mean to embrace and celebrate the darkness as much as the light? If we allowed ourselves to sleep all through the longest nights, what dreams might come? Could we learn again that the cycle of life comes in threes: birth, death, and regeneration? Not in twos: good and evil, life and death, black and white. darkness and light?

We might begin by getting “a good night’s sleep” on these long winter nights. I think our bodies might begin to show us and to tell us that the darkness really is as important as the light.

Winter Solstice Drama

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Last year I attended a bonfire on the night of the winter solstice at a friend’s house. As my companion and I walked towards the ledge where the fire had been the year before we were both astonished. Where was everybody? We stood in the dark confused. Minutes passed.

 

After suggesting we leave, my companion remarked with annoyance, “What the hell is going on here?” A Rhetorical question. I sure didn’t know.

 

Sudden hooting split the night and some dissonant musical sounds seemed to be coming from out of the bushes below us.

 

Following the sounds we descended the steep hill and discovered that the fire was at the river’s edge, and that a few people were already gathered there.

 

Unbeknownst to either of us the location had changed, and from our vantage point on the hill we couldn’t see the fire or hear any sounds. I had been looking forward to this celebratory turning, and liked the idea of sharing it with friends. Yet, now I felt uneasy.

 

As I recall, there were noise makers (?) but what stuck in my mind was my sense of confusion. Was this some sort of joke being played on us, and if so why? The anguish I felt was palpable. I barely remember the rest of the evening. I felt completely shut out and took refuge by staring into the flames of the fire, ending the evening by giving a solstice gift to my friend.

 

The next day I believe, I felt compelled to write to my friend to tell her how upset I was over what I perceived had happened. I love this woman, and consider her a soul sister.

 

She was as deeply distressed as I was. And when we spoke, cried, and hugged all at once, it immediately became clear that she assumed that we would know that the location of the fire had been changed because of a recent fire that had broken out further down the Bosque, and that no joke of any kind had been intended.

 

My perception and that of my companion’s had apparently been totally distorted.

 

I took responsibility for the distortion.

 

But I was floored.

 

I became a psychologist because I am a person who needs to root out underlying truths. I am like the proverbial dog with a bone, unable to put down an issue until I have unraveled it – even if it takes years. No dream came to me to help me unravel this conundrum. I have been sitting with it for a year, and have used the incident twice to demonstrate to others how perception can be skewed in ways that sometimes appear incomprehensible.

 

The closest I can come to an explanation for this drama will be difficult for most folks to comprehend, let alone accept. I have been a ritual artist for almost 40 years and have participated both alone and with others in these eight yearly turnings of the wheel and know from countless personal experiences that extraordinary happenings can and do occur during these times of what I call “natural power”. Sometimes these energies move in a positive direction and sometimes they move in reverse. I think what happened that solstice night was an example of cosmic energies constellating around a gathering in a negative way. Everyone was apparently impacted. That fact combined with the astounding synchronicity that my companion and I experienced – the weird sense of being tricked in some way – gives credence to this explanation. Stunning synchronicity, is in my experience, almost always associated with these forces of natural power that can manifest for good or for ill.

 

When my friend and I discussed this unfortunate experience today she wanted reassurance that this kind of dissonance would not occur again at this year’s fire. Everyone had gotten hurt she said. This remark surprised me because up until now I had assumed that this issue was between us and didn’t really involve others. I realize I am not clear why these people were so upset. It wasn’t as if I said anything to anyone else. Still, I was only too happy to reassure her.

 

But her remark about everyone being so hurt gave me a clue. Apparently everyone had been negatively impacted.

 

When I hung up the phone that I heard that nagging inner voice saying ‘you are assuming too much responsibility for this incident’. My telepathic bird Lily b started bellowing.

 

Whatever happened that night may remain a mystery but I believe that all of us were unwitting players in the dark side of a winter solstice drama.

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Reparation

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This morning on my walk the word reparation floated through my mind as I listened to rippling river waters…

What does it mean to make reparation for an injustice done? One dictionary definition suggests that reparation involves making amends. To reweave the circle, to repair the rent, that is a hole made by tearing apart what once was whole, seems like an image and thought worth pondering especially during these dark winter months that encourage self – reflection and dreaming (but are also rife with declarations of ‘love’ usually expressed as a commodity).

We all make mistakes. Most are not intentional, yet they can inadvertently cause great harm; in some cases these mistakes destroy relationships.

It seems to me that we all have choices here. We can make a decision (set a clear intention) not to allow the past to determine our future. This does not mean that we don’t hold a person accountable for his/her actions. We must, in order to stay present to the truth that we were harmed by another person’s behavior intentional or not.

However, we can still make a choice to remember that we were hurt and still let go. Of course, this is a process, and depending upon the depth of the pain inflicted, it may take a very long time to move through that dark tunnel. We need to be patient with ourselves and with others.

Becoming stuck in anger, or feeling victimized blocks letting go. It is critically important to feel those feelings, but at the same time, not to allow them to drive future interactions with those we care about.

If a breach of trust has occurred then this loss of trust must be taken very seriously because relationships are so complex and fragile and so dependent upon this feeling to flourish.

How do we go about healing a breach of trust? In my way of thinking, acknowledging that we broke the trust of another must come first.

Re-establishing friendly contact by focusing on common ground is helpful in some cases.

But the most important aspect of this healing involves changing our behavior – repeated apologies without demonstrating to the other person that we care enough about them to alter our actions – when words are not followed by actions – apologies becomes meaningless. It is relatively easy to say we are sorry, it is much more difficult to begin to re – establish trust by shifting our behavior. It is worth repeating that trust is forged from the ground up, and the building blocks of the temple of meaningful relationship must rest on a foundation of trust.

When we harm or are harmed by another it is helpful to know that our actions no matter how egregious don’t have to determine the future, and that with intention, attention, patience, and persistence, our damaged relationships can be healed.

IMG_3398.JPGUltimately, forgiveness may be the gift offered without reservation to those who are willing to do this most challenging work.

Mule Deer

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I come from an area in Maine where the prolific Whitetail deer bed down around my house during the winter, birth their fawns in the spring in my wildlife sanctuary, roam around my field in female dominated groups with young during the summer. It isn’t until fall that I usually meet the bucks coming in to feed on the sweet wild apples outside my window. My point here is that although I never take their presence for granted, interacting with deer is simply part of my life.

When I first moved down by the river in Abiquiu, I used to see mule deer early in the predawn hours outside the Trailercita. Sometimes I would startle one or two when I walked in the Bosque and noted that both elk and mule deer bedded down in wild grasses making a circular depression much the way a dog will do before it sleeps.

After I moved into the Casita and began to walk down to the river every morning in the twilight hours I would often meet deer in the next field or on the island. I also tracked them through the Bosque surprising one or two occasionally. I didn’t realize until this fall how much seeing these animals made me feel at home.

When I returned to Abiquiu in September I immediately noticed that the deer were no longer bedding down in the Bosque. After being here for almost three months I have yet to glimpse the sight of even one mule deer. The loss of these ungulates disturbs me greatly. Where have they gone?

Just last week I noticed a deer scrape in the Bosque and tracked one mule deer, and one elk that had traversed the path and jumped the fence onto a more thickly vegetated area.

Because November marks the beginning of the rut the males are on the move and some are also beginning to shed their racks of antlers. I keep a sharp eye on the two junipers that are missing branches in the Bosque to see if more bark has been denuded, but as far as I can tell only one mule deer seems to be responsible for the scrape (elk don’t shed antlers until early spring). I just wish I could get a glimpse of one of these beautiful animals once more…

The single defining characteristic of mule deer is their large ears, which are about three-fourths the length of the head. They have a distinctive black forehead, or mask, that contrasts with a light gray face. In the summer, mule deer are tannish-brown and in the winter are brown and gray in color. They have a white rump patch and a small white tail with a black tip. When running, they bound – all four hooves push off the ground at the same time. Although this leaping slows them down, it allows them to leave predators behind by quickly ascending steep slopes or jumping unpredictably over large obstacles. Their large, keen eyes and ears allow them to locate distant predators like coyotes and wolves.

Mule deer range from 3 to 3.5 feet tall at the shoulder, 4.5 to 7 feet long, and have a tail that is five to eight inches long. They can weigh between 130 and 280 pounds. Like other species of deer, the females are smaller than the males.

These animals are among the most beloved and iconic wildlife of the American West. Mule deer are found especially in the Rocky Mountain region of North America. They are adapted to arid, rocky environments and thrive in habitats that have a combination of early-stage plant growth, mixed-species plant communities, and diverse and extensive shrub growth. A mixture of plant communities provides better forage than any single species. Plants that are young and emerging are more nutritious than mature trees and shrubs. I can’t help wondering if this need for young and intermediate plant growth is one reason why these grazing animals are disappearing from the Bosque now that so much of it has been opened up and cut.

Mule deer are very selective feeders, nibbling on herbaceous plants and the leaves and twigs of woody shrubs. Instead of eating large quantities of low-quality feed like grass, they must select the most nutritious plants and parts of plants. Because of this, mule deer have more specific forage requirements than elk that share their habitat.

Between November and January (depending on the locality), bucks lock antlers competing for the right to mate with females. The victorious male attract females to them and attempt to defend them against the attention of other (often younger) bucks. Sexual maturity is attained at the age of about 18 months in does, but young males are barred from participation in the rut until they are three to four years old.

The gestation period is approximately 200 to 210 days and occurs during the summer. The female sequesters herself and gives birth in a protected spot, where the spotted fawn remains for a period of a week or 10 days before it is strong enough to follow the mother. It is during this period that the young are most vulnerable to predation. The young ones are weaned at about the age of 60 or 75 days, at which time they begin to lose their spots. Mule deer usually live 9 to 11 years in the wild.

In some areas the mule deer will have separate summer and winter ranges, with a migratory path connecting them. In the mild climates they will not migrate. They live in small groups of three to five individuals.

During he winter larger groups often come together to feed. It appears that the females have a small home range, living out their lives close to the areas where they were born, while the males migrate longer distances. I have noted the same tendency with respect to Whitetails.

For decades, western Colorado has been home to some of the country’s largest mule deer herds. Herds in a portion of northwestern Colorado were once so prolific that the area was dubbed “the mule deer factory.”

Unfortunately, I also discovered that overall Mule deer populations have been dropping across the west for several years, which also may account for my seeing less of them. State wildlife managers and wildlife groups are trying to determine what’s behind the decline. It amazes me that climate change is not mentioned as a factor. Naturally, shrinking habitat due to development including that of increased oil and gas drilling is also a factor contributing to the decrease of this species. The renowned White River herd in northwest Colorado has plummeted from more than 100,000 in the early 1980s to the current estimate of 32,000 deer according to the National Wildlife Federation. From this naturalists point of view a loss of two thirds of any deer population anywhere is cause for deep concern.