Animals are like people in many ways. So there are clever and cunning, stupid and wise, wily and deceitful animals. And just like people, there’s no telling whether being old means you’re wise. In this new tale a girl thinks that the old and large animals of her country are the wisdom-keepers.
In a small country on the coast there lived a girl by the name of Anna who fretted about the death of her grandad. Why did this fun, caring and wise support of her life have to disappear forever? She asked her parents, but they didn’t know. “You had better ask the village elder,” they replied, “he is old and, therefore, wise; he’ll be able to tell you.”
“Death is simply a normal part of life,” answered the village elder. Anna didn’t think this was a very satisfactory answer. The answers of all the other people in the village who Anna had asked also failed to satisfy her. She decided to turn to large and strong animals.
Anna went in search of the largest land animal she knew, known in her language by the beautiful name of ‘Noble Deer’. A large and stately animal with such a name simply had to be noble and wise. When the red deer saw her approaching, he wanted to head off immediately, but Anna called out: “Oh Noble Deer, I want to ask you something important.” With its enormous crown of antlers pointing threateningly towards her, the red deer moved cautiously closer. When the girl had put her question, the red deer looked at her with its large brown eyes and in deep bass tones it grunted: “I may be the largest animal in this country, but I know very little about death. We are prey animals and run as fast as possible to escape death. Animals of prey want to kill us above all else. That is cruel – but that’s how things are. Apart from that I have no idea about death either, my child. Try talking to one of the animals of prey. They may have a deeper understanding of such matters.” And breaking into a trot, he disappeared into the pine woods.
Feeling disappointed, Anna decided to put her question to the largest bird of prey she knew: the sea eagle. After a long walk she spotted the bird with its enormous wings flying above her: “Sea eagle,” she shouted, “who is the oldest eagle of our land? I want to ask it something important.” With a sense of awe she watched the large feathered legs with its yellow claws which the eagle stuck forward threateningly when he landed on a bare branch. Anna asked her question and the eagle opened his large curved yellow beak and spoke with its rasping voice: “I am indeed the largest and oldest bird of prey in this land, hi hi hi, but I am not as wise as people often think. There is enough for me to eat here and a full stomach makes you lazy, hi hi hi. No, I don’t trouble myself with thinking, are you crazy, life is far too fun to spend worrying about such things. In the eyes of many creatures I am the personification of death, I live by killing. That is my understanding of death. No more, no less and that’s enough for me, hi hi hi. Ask the aquatic animals, they say that they are the keepers of the deepest wisdom.” And the sea eagle flew off laughing back up into the sky.
Anna decided to find the largest aquatic animal. She travelled with a sailor who dropped her off on a sandbank. She saw how the fat seals were lying glistening in the sun. “O Seals, I want to ask the oldest seal something important.” Upon which one multi-scarred animal looked at her, its large eyes brimming with disarming kindness. It listened to Anna’s problem and barked: “Yes, yes, we are certainly the largest aquatic animals of the land, but we have no understanding of death. We kill fish to stay alive. You eat fish too, don’t you? What are you worrying about? Go and enjoy the sun!” At which he rolled over comfortably onto his back. A little while later a smaller seal hobbled over and said to Anna: “We may well be the largest sea creatures of your land, but I cannot give you an answer with words. For true wisdom, child, there are no words. Wisdom is something you must experience, it’s inside you. “The sea looked at her kindly and Anna disappointedly abandoned her quest.
Tired from her travels, the girl sat down to rest against an old willow. “Is there nobody then who knows why my grandad died?” she asked herself out loud. At which the tree whispered: “I may not be the largest tree, but I have enjoyed a very long life so far and have experienced and seen many things. I’ve had time to think and feel and I have the wisdom of my ancestors in me. I am old, storms have weathered me, and on the inside I’m completely hollow. But everyone adores me. Animals use me to shelter in the winter, they drink the water I store in my cavities; birds nest in my wig of leaves; insects eat my pollen; people make baskets from my branches. My types never grow old – willows are felled by big storms. But did you know that new willow trees start growing immediately out of a fallen willow? We willows have ensured that your small marshy land remains firm underfoot. Everyone makes their contribution to life. Me, your grandad and you yourself. Your grandad has fallen, but through him, his children and grandchildren like yourself have emerged and you will live on and renew the earth.”
Anna thought she understood this. Tired but happy she fell asleep against the hollow tree.
A red deer in the prime of its life can reach 2 metres and weigh 250 kg. Red deers are the largest animals of The Netherlands and Belgium. The females, does, are much smaller. They have very good eyesight, hearing and sense of smell.
Healthy red deers of between 8 and 12 years of age have the largest antlers, which can grow to be as large as 90 cm. and weigh 10 kg. The number of divisions says nothing about the age. From February onwards the antlers drop off, the strongest first and then regrow within five months. While growing, the antlers are covered with a sensitive soft skin which is well-supplied with blood. When they reach maturity the skin dies off and starts to itch. By rubbing against trees, they rub the skin off their antlers. The saps of the damaged branches and the bleeding skin combine to give the antlers their brown colour.
Red deers can live to be between 16 and 25 years. They preferred habitat is open grasslands sheltered by trees. In the Oostvaardersplassen, where they are not hunted, they are active in the daylight hours, but elsewhere they are timid because of hunting and hide themselves by day. On the bare white underside of bushes you can see where they have been eating the bark in the winter time.
In centuries past red deer disappeared through the cultivation of ‘scrubland’ and hunting. In The Netherlands thousands of animals live here again since their reintroduction in the Veluwe area for hunting purposes. In the 20th century they were released into the wild for grazing purposes. They are relatively rare in Belgium. In the wild deer are animals which are continually on the move in search of richer feeding grounds. Because nature areas are not interconnected they cannot migrate in the event of over population. In the Veluwe area the numbers are kept in check through hunting and in the Oostvaardersplassen by the amount of food, so that many young and weaker deer are shot in the winter.
Footnote: For information about the seal and the sea eagle: see their stories on the website.