I entered Phoenix Park with high hopes that day three would succeed where the first two days had failed.  I was hunting the mythical fallow deer that, as goes the myth, have resided here for over 350 years.  Today I would scour the south side of the park.  This was the only area that I had not yet searched and, therefore, success was imminent, right?

I began by following the trails that broke off of Chichester Street, the central avenue that ran the length of the park.  As I followed one of them back to the center I saw the sign for the Visitor’s Center.  It would be open today and I decided to take a detour  so that I might get some expert advice.  I entered the Visitor’s Center and the woman at the information desk was busy on the phone.  As I waited I went into the back room, which was a small gallery devoted to the history of the park.  The centerpiece was a hunting scene that recreated the park in its days as the noble hunting grounds, complete with a stuffed deer.  “There it is,” I thought.  “That is probably the last deer that inhabited this park.”

Then the woman got off the phone and I sauntered back in to interrogate her about the deer.  After a brief conversation, the bottom line seemed to be that the deer went wherever they felt like going.  This was still promising, though, because it meant that they still believed there were deer residing in the park grounds.  My skepticism was diminished but not eliminated.

I left the Visitor’s Center and picked up back where I left off on the south side of Chichester.  My first stop was the Papal Cross.  The cross was at the top of a large flight of stairs and I figured that from this vantage point I could see much more of the park than I could just walking along the trails.  I looked out over the massive field below and imagined what it had looked like on September 29, 1979 when over one million people gathered to hear Pope John Paul II give a sermon.  I also imagined what it might look like if a few hundred deer were passing through in January 2012.  What a glorious site that would have been on this sunspotted day in Dublin.

On the other side of the field was a thick forest that looked like a perfect spot for deer trying to hide.  I followed the trails they had left until I was walking through the trees.  The tracks were fresh and I wondered which of the dozen trails I should follow.  One by one I followed all of them until they led out into another open field.  After inspecting the forests and field I turned back towards Chichester Street.  As I walked I peered from side to side looking for my fallow friends.  Then, nearly 800 yards away I saw something resembling the bales of hay I had mistaken for wild deer the day before.  There was something different about these ones, though.  There were a  hundred of them and they were pressed close together.  Then, I saw them move.

I approached with caution hoping that this could be my much sought after prey.  But it couldn’t be.  I have never seen this many deer in one place.  As I got within a few hundred yards I saw that one of these hay bales had a massive set of horns atop its head.  This was it!  This was really it!  They were real and I found them!

I walked slowly now.  I did not want to scare them before I could get a picture.  I did not know if I could get much closer. They began to stir.  Some of them stood up.  I snapped some pictures from a distance and decided to press my luck.

There was a trail running about twenty yards from where the herd was grazing and I began moving down it.  Five minutes later I was close enough to join the herd if they would accept members of another species.  Some of them were eating grass while others played non-reindeer deer games.  The only buck in the group went around prodding at the does who laid in the grass until they got up and began grazing.  I stood watching them and thinking about the amazing life these animals had.

When I finally decided to leave them be I walked back towards the main road, kinda.  After about an hour of wandering without knowledge of my precise geographical location I came upon the familiar Phoenix monument.  From there I walked along the trail that I had been on so many times before.  This time something was different, though.  The trail was lined with herds of fallow deer.  It was as if they respected the fortitude I had shown in hunting them and the respect I had shown them when I finally found them.  They seemed to be nodding in approval as they plucked the grass from the dirt.  I am also pretty sure that one of them winked at me as a strolled by.  Well, it was a fun adventure and I can hardly wait to get started on my next one.  Until then…