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Every year at our cottage, we feed corn to the deer. All of the deer look pretty much the same. They all have brown fur that turns gray in the fall, a bright white tail—and four legs. Then Tripod came along.

We'd heard rumors about a three-legged deer near the cottage, but it was still a surprise to see her. We were looking out the window when a deer wandered into the yard. "She's walking funny," Mom thought out loud. Then we saw the reason for the limp: the deer was missing her front right leg! "I feel kind of bad for her." We all nodded and kept watching the new deer. Mom got a pair of binoculars for a closer look. "Look at the leg," she said, handing the binoculars to me. I looked. Tripod wasn't truly missing a leg. She had a small, deformed leg that was only a few inches long—not even a quarter of the length of her other legs. It showed she had been like this since birth, but her tiny leg would never do her any good in the wild.

"She's like a tripod—only three legs," said Dad. We laughed, but it was a good name, and it stuck. From then on, the deer's name was Tripod. When we first saw Tripod, it was almost the end of summer. That is always a sad time. We have to close up the cottage, take the dock out of the lake, and trade sun and fun for cold and snow.

Winter isn't easy for the animals, either. Chipmunks and squirrels hibernate in their cozy nests under trees and most birds fly south to warmer temperatures, but deer are left to struggle through the winter. It's survival of the fittest for the deer, and we were worried about Tripod. With only three legs, she had an obvious disadvantage when it came to survival.

tripod deer family
She was older this year and had two babies with her

That night, though, our worry about Tripod living through the winter disappeared. We were just about to go to bed when we saw a commotion out the front window. There were at least six deer crowded around the bucket, and none of them were very interested in sharing the corn. Tripod was right in the middle of the fight. She had been there first, it seemed, and she didn't intend to give up her spot in line just because of a missing leg. A bigger deer pushed in front of Tripod and she stumbled to the side. "Poor Tripod," we said, still thinking about winter. There was no way she could last very long with her leg. But Tripod proved us wrong. She reared up on her hind legs and kicked her one good leg at the bigger deer to scare him. He jumped out of the way, and the rest of the deer followed. They didn't like the idea of a hoof in their face any more than the first deer. We looked at each other in amazement. Tripod might have had a disadvantage, but she was tough. Suddenly we didn't have any doubts that Tripod could survive the winter. In fact, she could probably last longer than any of the other deer. She was used to working extra hard just to live.

Next summer, we found that we were right. As soon as we put out new corn, Tripod came by. She was older this year and had two babies with her. They were cute little deer with white speckles, and we were sure that they had one of the best mothers a deer could have. After seeing the way she had defended her spot in line at the corn bucket, we knew that she would guard her babies with even more determination.

Every year after that, Tripod showed up for corn. We came to expect her. Of course we liked all the deer, but Tripod was special. We considered her our deer. When a deer came up to the corn bucket, we'd ask, "Is it Tripod?" We were always watching out for her.

This year was the sixth year since we saw Tripod. It was the first year that Tripod didn't come. At first we made excuses, but it soon became clear that something was wrong. The average life span of a white-tail deer in the wild is nine years, so Tripod had been getting old. And the first time we saw her, she was already one or two years old, so by this time she would be seven or eight years old. That's pretty good for a deer, especially one with three legs. Tripod hasn't come by since.

But every once in a while, someone will see a deer dart across the road. Even though they only had a quick glance, some people were certain that the deer they saw had only three legs. I've never seen another three-legged deer, but that doesn't mean that she's not out there. Maybe she is the last daughter of Tripod, continuing the legacy I don't know. But whether or not there is a Tripod, Jr., in our woods, we'll always remember Tripod.

tripod caitlin peterson
Caitlin Peterson, 13
Appleton, Wisconsin

tripod melissa moucka
Melissa Moucka, 13
Hinsdale, Illinois