I have always loved nature and animals. I spent most of the summers in my youth outdoors either weeding for my father or trying to avoid doing so by hiding from him in the woods behind our house. In all those formative years, I rarely, if ever saw a deer in our neighborhood, in the woods behind our house, in the Metroparks, which I would frequent as a teenager, or even on road trips to the West Virginia resort my family would visit every year. The closest I ever came to a deer was watching Bambi on the Wonderful World of Disney on Sunday nights after a bath.
Today, it is a different story. As anyone who lives in the suburbs – or even urban neighborhoods – will tell you, deer are omnipresent. They are as commonplace as squirrels and way, way more obnoxious. When I’m working in the garden in my suburban back yard, I will often scare one up, waking her from her comfortable nap in my hostas. She will slowly get up and stroll away, muttering obscenities to me under her breath. She and her deer buddies in our neighborhood are like a marauding gang, roaming around with impunity, thuggish and ballsy. They just don’t give a what. When they cross a street, they seem to purposely take their time doing so.
“Yeah, I’m strolling across this major thoroughfare, stopping traffic both ways. And you’re just going to sit there in your minivan and take it, lady.”
And they’re a randy bunch, procreating with abandon. Every time I turn around there’s another newborn fawn all curled up and cozy in someone’s front yard. Mrs. Deer, you really need to take up another hobby. Sure, those babies are precious … until they’re eating my landscaping.
When I’m cooking on the grill in my suburban back yard, a deer will stand there, chewing and staring at me blankly. “Um, Mar,” he seems to say. “Those burgers seem to be overdone. And while we’re talking about food … you really need to plant more pansies in the front yard. I started nibbling on them this morning and before I knew it, I had eaten the whole bed. They are like potato chips … you can’t have just one. Anyway, you’re going to want to plant more pansies, Mar.”
I hate urban deer. And I hate the silly fools who feed them.
Last week on our annual family vacation in West Virginia I witnessed a flock of these fools (I am referring to people here) hand feeding a veritable herd of deer. It was like a Disney World character autograph scrum.
“Here, Bambi! Have some Cap’n Crunch.”
“Why, thank you kind, simple tourist. And for your troubles, I will in turn give you some ticks with Lyme disease.” Lyme Disease is real and not something to trifle with, people. That stuff will mess you up.
The sad truth is that these suburban deer are eating everything in their path because they’re starving. The combination of urban sprawl and deer’s propensity to reproduce faster than post war Catholics is giving us deer that are too skinny and unhealthy. Those deer on the resort hilltop were like ghostly apparitions. Honestly, there are just too damned many deer for urban environments to sustain. Or West Virginia resorts, for that matter.
Out in the country around our farm, however, deer are deer. They are muscular and majestic because they are fit and living like wild animals, not pathetic circus sideshow acts. They are beautiful, really, just like The Great Prince of the Forest, Bambi’s father. They are appropriately skittish and mostly keep away from humans because they have gotten the message that humans out there in the country are often packing heat and they and their deer friends just might end up on someone’s wall or dinner plate. But the result is that the deer population is under control, they are not overrunning the area and there is enough vegetation for them to live healthy, happy lives. Out there, I don’t hate deer.
My husband, The Deer Hunter, loves deer. In fact, he went so far as to plant apple trees on our farm so that they could treat themselves as they pass through our property. “Oh, that’s so sweet!” I exclaimed. “What a nice thing to do for them.”
“Yeah,” he nodded. “It’s going to make for a great deer hunting season.”
Wait. What? He is planning on getting them fat and happy only to shoot them some time in the future? It made me sad.
But then I thought of those ghostly deer on the hilltop or the Sharks and Jets deer gangs in our neighborhood back home. I’m no hunter, have no interest personally in killing deer and am not fond of venison. But seeing firsthand the difference between healthy deer and sickly deer, I’ve come to the realization that hunting deer is a necessary part of keeping nature natural and the deer population as a whole healthy. I know Bambi’s mother was taken out by a deer hunter (don’t all Disney mothers find tragic, untimely ends?), and that broke my little heart. But isn’t it also heartbreaking to see a once majestic beast reduced to eating boxed cereal or anything out of a human's hand?