Something in the air is different. All the animals of the forest are restless. What is that smell? Momma puts her nose in the air and sniffs: "Smoke. Run Ember! Run!" And it begins. Running and running. Behind them a monster. It is yellow and red. It makes a hissing sound. It crackles. It is the Erskine fire.
Running and running. The smoke makes it hard to breath. And now the smell of smoke is mixed with the smell of fear. "Faster Ember" Momma shouts. Her little legs are going as fast as they can. They stop behind a rock. Momma tilts her head and listens. "Don't look up Ember." But it is too late. Something is falling from the sky. They are both coated in it. Ember's eyes are burning. "Run Ember."
The little one struggles to keep up. The smoke is thick and she can't see. Her eyes are burning. She trips and tumbles down a hill head over heals and comes to a stop. "Momma? Momma!" But she is alone. Running. Where to run. This way and that way. Nothing makes sense. The bushes reach out and grab her, holding her back. "Momma?" Nothing.
She feels the heat of the monster getting closer. Run. Run away from the monster. Ember struggles through the undergrowth, running until her legs fail her. She collapses, her heart pounding. Ember is spent, blind and alone. She sleeps. She awakens to heavy smoke. Men and equipment around her making so much noise. But the monster is gone.
Ember wanders away from the noise. She is alone. She is coated in something thick and heavy. And now, there is something new around her. She can't see, but the smell of people and dogs and horses confuse her. "Momma." She cries. But Momma does not answer.
Alone and afraid, she stumbles into a patch of grass that leads her to a cool place where she suddenly feels safe.
Ember has found her way to the backyard of Bear Valley Springs resident Dinah Bondy. Out the window, Dinah sees the small fawn. She resists getting close knowing that the mom could be nearby. But soon, it is obvious there is no momma with this fawn. Ember seems confused. She is "meowing" for help. Dinah checks the fawn out, gives her water and does the right thing. She calls Bear Valley Police.
And that is where we come in. Every year we get calls for fawns. Most need no intervention but some do. Our job is to stabilize them and transport them to a licensed rehabilitation facility where they will be cared for and kept wild until they are ready for release back into the wild. We aren't paid. This is a passion that comes out of pure love for these beautiful creatures.
Sharon Bank is first to assess the little fawn. She determines intervention is necessary. The little one appears to have impaired vision. She is unsteady on her feet. She takes Ember to her home. Ember is frightened and confused. She is in panic mode, bouncing off the walls, trying desperately to escape. Sharon's neighbor, Virginia Rasch, spends hours sitting with the fawn, holding her, calming her. And finally, the fawn is eating for the first time in a while. She will eat every 3 to 4 hours for the next few days while she gains her strength back.
Next day, I arrive early to pick up the fawn. She will be assessed by a veterinarian to determine if she will be able to go back to the wild. My guess is no. Even if some of her vision returns, she will still be impaired. So I am starting the paperwork to make Ember a permanent resident of Windswept Ranch. If California Department of Fish and Wildlife approve the application, she will live her life out here at the ranch. If not, most likely she will be euthanized. Praying for a quick approval.
If approved, Ember will be one of the more challenging residents at the ranch. Special accommodations will be necessary to make her life with impaired vision safe and comfortable. We will spend hours desensitizing her so she will not panic and injure herself when new situations arise. It is all about trust and that is something that is earned with animals, especially those meant to live in the wild. But it will be worth it.
What is left after a fire is embers. This little one will remind us of what is at risk when there is a wildfire.
While Ember will not be available for viewing for some time, we have lots of other wonderful critters waiting to meet and greet you. The ranch is open Saturdays through October from 10 to 4 p.m.