Write In Between

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Oh Deer!

In winters past, when my children were small, the snow in our yard was a landscape of footprints, snow-angels, snow forts and the occasional snowman or snow creature. These days, the snow-covered lawn is once again covered with footprints, but not from children. We have deer.

I have lived in the wilds of New England for 11 years now, having come from Long Island, New York--the very definition of suburban sprawl. Long Island, in the words of my non-native brother-in-law, is "one giant shrub contest." I would say that was accurate. I knew people who could quote the going prices for azaleas every Easter, and when the discounts would kick in at the end of season.

When my husband and I finally bought our first home, I, too, began a love affair with evergreens and flowering shrubs. The property we bought was barren and needed a lot of care. So, when family members asked what I wanted for my birthday, anniversary, Mother's Day and so on, I requested outdoor shrubbery, bulbs, and flats of annuals. Drive around certain neighborhoods on LI and you could see the "competition" for the well-dressed lawn and well-appointed garden. Often, homeowners would accent their lawns or landscaping with birdbaths, or ornamental pieces of statuary. And yes, there are full-color deer statues to be had. Not that I ever had one. No make-believe Bambis for me. I am more the birdbath and birdfeeder type. I also enjoy seeing Madonnas or favorite saints honored in gardens.

Imagine my delight, when upon moving to my new home in Massachusetts, the landscape included flowering shrubs and evergreens throughout the park-like property we had. We reveled in the quiet, if curvy, road we lived on. There was a state forest nearby and plenty of wildlife. Outside of some really loud bull frogs and mosquitoes in summer, I had no complaints with our furry four-legged neighbors. My Christmas present that first year was a 36" statue of Our Lady of Grace who merited her own backyard garden the next spring. And about a year ago, we added St. Francis to our bird sanctuary out front (where the feeders are.)

However, the local Massachusetts folklore provided plenty of deer "horror stories." You know the type-- deer running across roads and highways at inopportune moments. I have passed many roadkills of former deer. Its not a pretty sight. It took me 8 years of driving in these parts to finally have my own high-speed deer-in-the-headlights experience. I was zipping down a highway off-ramp when a deer jumped the barrier and landed on the pavement just ahead of me. Fortunately, despite screeching brakes, I was able to stop in time, inches away from Bambi's mother. I gave a quick toot on the horn and the animal hopped back over the barrier to safety before another car approached.

Other than that one night, my deer experience had been limited to the very occasional deer sightings late at night or early morning. I'd see them around the edges of the property, usually near the woods, and then they would hop right away. In general, I had an appreciation and a fondness for the deer -- from a distance. I recalled fake deer statuary in New York, and smugly thought, "ain't nothin' like the real thing, baby."

My husband, on the other hand, would never see the deer. The scenario goes, "Hey, Dad, come look at the deer!" Dad arrives at window. No deer. Even coming in late, when it might be common to see one or two around the yard, he never saw a single one on our property. For eleven years. Saw lots of hoofprints in the snow, but no live deer. It was kinda like he was a kid trying to see the elusive Santa Claus on Christmas Eve. What's worse is the kids started teasing him after late night walks with the dog, "Dad, see any deer?"

Well, we know they are out there. I've seen them, and my oldest son had a close encounter with a deer late at night about four weeks ago. He was almost home, driving along a back road, and a deer hit him! He never saw it coming. Just thud against the front bumper, a brown blur leaving a dent, then running off. My son was so shaken, he called us at 1AM to report in about it. Then, he turned his truck around in search of the deer, thinking it was dead, but it was long gone, probably off playing chicken with another motorist.

The other night, the Confirmation class I was teaching had a discussion about the 10th Commandment, and how we should not form unhealthy attachments to material things. I never thought I was attached to the shrubs and plants in my yard until now. You see, in the beginning, the deer were slowly eating the evergreens that surrounded our property. Arborvitae and yews seemed to be the favorites on the menu. I guess they got bored since they moved on to trampling a good section of juniper and rhododendron. Now, they are downright brazen-- coming right up to our house to munch on shrubbery right under our front windows! The deer are becoming less endearing to me.

Several nights ago, our dog Brady was barking like a crazy fool. My husband kept trying the shush the dog since the game was on TV. I mentioned that the bark sounded like the "warning bark"--that maybe Brady was a being a deer-alarm. My hubby rushed to windows, no deer. But it was easy to see that they were probably there most of the night... the carnage right outside our front door was proof. Not to mention we can see their hoof prints in the fresh snow-- strolling right up the front walkway! Who needs foraging and dining al fresco in the woodlands when you can just saunter up a paved path for a free dinner?! I am planning on researching deer-proof greenery and calculating the cost of bush replacements come next spring. It's not pretty. The front yard I mean, not to mention my attitude.

This morning the deer finally crossed the line with me. I took Brady out for his morning walk, observing last night's deer cuisine left us nothing but stubs and nubs of our pick-over shrubs. I was aghast! St. Francis was lying face down in the snow! (Note to deer: he's the saint that LOVES ANIMALS!) Now, chomping the leaves, needles and branches off my bushes is one thing, but don't go messing with my garden statuary! I apologized to Frank and righted his frozen image as best I could. I'll deal with my attachment to things when I done dealing with the balance between living in harmony with nature and domesticated deer!

St. Francis of Assisi, pray for us!

Copyright 2006 Patricia W. Gohn

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