Dyrehave: Chasing Deer in the Snow

February 11, 2017

Sometimes I just can’t save myself from doing stupid stuff.

I am in Copenhagen to be a foodie for a few days following a business trip to Paris. I am wearing leather shoes, the only pair I have brought on this trip. On this very first morning, before I begin to explore any of the culinary goodies of Copenhagen, I find myself ankle-deep in snow. I have just crossed the huge red gate of Jægersborg Dyrehave (commonly known as just Dyrehave, meaning Deer Park) and what’s in front of me is a white landscape of nothing but tree and snow.

Let’s backtrack a little on how I get myself in this predicament in the first place. I am setting out to visit the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, the only attraction in Copenhagen that piques my interest. The museum is located 35 km north of the Danish capital, and along the same train line is Klampenborg, a northern suburb 13 km and a 20-minute train ride from the Copenhagen Central Station. Since the area had seen a snowstorm just a few days ago, I figure I can drop by to Dyrehave for a quick visit — the time is yet nine and the museum opens at ten. Hopefully I can luck into an encounter with several of the 2,100 wild deer that roam the park. Wild deer running on a snow-covered landscape — what can be more Nordic than that?

This ordinary-looking forest park is improbably a World Heritage site, part of the Par Force hunting landscape used for hunting by the Danish kings in the 17th and 18th centuries. The hunting method of choice, par force, is a French term meaning “by force”, in which a prey was run down and exhausted by mounted hunters and dogs before the kill was made. Originated in France, this technique was adopted widely across Europe by the ruling class as a show of power.

Back to the present. While I am in leather shoes, next to me are a couple in full sport gears busy putting on their skis. I have no idea where the deer are in this 11 kmpark — the only path available is to head west. The park’s layout is based on an orthogonal grid system; soon I come across a crossroad and no matter which way I look the prospect appears the same. Nothing but bare trees.

Nobody I come across has seen a single deer. They are happy to spend a sunny Saturday morning in the nature jogging, cycling, sledding or skiing. None particularly cares for the deer and they are a little amused to see a foreigner eagerly looking for one. Finally two men advise me to head north toward the Eremitage Hunting Lodge — supposedly there is a feeding station nearby where I can try my luck.

Walking in snow is tiring, especially without proper footwear. After traversing miles of whiteness I reach the hunting lodge on top of a tiny hill; I find myself sweating in the subzero temperature and all I can hear is my own breathing. Still no hint of any deer. Worst, nobody has heard of a feeding station.

I gaze north across a large field, figuring I would have a higher odds here with an uninterrupted vantage point rather than continue walking in the woods. My plan is almost immediately rewarded when a deer leap out from the wood and gallop through the barren soil. I quickly take a few snaps — even with my 300mm lens the deer is only slightly bigger than a brown spot on my viewfinder, and a few seconds later it disappears back into the forest.

My schedule is in disarray. Certainly I won’t make it to Louisiana, but if I linger for too long I might even be late for my lunch appointment at Relæ. I just can’t leave now, not before I have some better photos, even though I know my chance is slim without a tripod and such limited amount of time. I am stubborn, and I will figure out the rest later.

I pace right outside of the woods where the deer is hiding. For twenty minutes our game of hide-and-seek yields me nothing as it remains out of shooting distance. Finally it dashes away in the distance.

Is this all worth it? I don’t have time to ponder as my focus has turned to returning to Copenhagen as fast as possible. Heading east toward the Trepilevej exit, a loud bellow breaks the silence and grips my attention. Suddenly a herd of ten deer emerge from the woods and flash across the field. Although still quite far away, they are barely within shooting distance and I begin to snap away. Ten seconds later they are gone like nothing has ever happened.

I doubt it is standard practice to be sweaty and muddy before a Michelin-starred meal, but given the chance how can anyone pass up seeing wild deer in the snow? Worth it or not, I better start running or else my plan of being a foodie for a few days would go down the drain before it begins.

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