When you grow a garden in the woods it is a little like living in a state of seige. The deer are the worst. Gray and silent as ghosts, they wait until flowers are in bloom ready for my wife to bring them in and arrange them in her artistic way. It is just then that the deer take them, maiming what they don’t eat to save room for another bright flower a few steps away. Lillies are among the favorites, but hostas top the list. We try to grow those every year and just when they send brave flags up with blooms soon to follow the deer get them.
“Shoot them!” John Updike’s wife cried when they saw deer plundering the garden. “Shoot them!” I don’t recall whether he was gun in hand at the time in this non-fiction piece, but he didn’t shoot while fully understanding her fury. All the work you do, planting, fertilizing, watering over the weeks and months, not too much, not too little, all for nothing in the end. Mrs. Updike was a nice woman, the kind who wouldn’t hurt a fly but drew the line at deer. Better dead than fed.
There are sprays and a dust that has a frankly nauseating smell to humans when applied that are supposed to repel deer, but they not a reliable defense when there is a lot of rain as there is hereabouts. Even when they do work, the deer often spit out what they have just sampled; the plant is disfigured and ruined as a result.
I walked out the back door the other morning and two speckled fawns began dashing in a panic around our small fenced garden. The had come for the dahlias and got caught red handed. After some rushing about, one cleared the fence and the other butted through a loose slat I had been meaning to fix but kept putting off. (I have a procrastinating side). His other option was the open gate and I was prepared to give it an admonitory rap on the rear with a shovel handle as it passed. As always with deer, they ran off a bit and looked back as if to say, “What’s your problem?”
White-tailed deer are plentiful here; everywhere, actually. I read somewhere there are more of them in North American now than when the continent was discovered by Europeans. I know in advanced circles they put quotes around discovered, but I’m old school. Nobody who mattered knew at the time knew it was here except Indians, who were usually at war with one another, on the brink of it, or had just finished adding to the string of scalps at the council lodge. I further know I’m supposed to say Indigenous People, Native Americans or, in Canada, First Nation. But like I say, I’m incorrigibly old school. Prelapsarian-like it wasn’t when the Vikings sailed into sight, every bit the savages but better armed than those in the New World. There was no nonsense about the veneer of civilization back then. Nature was red of tooth and claw and humans were complicit. Centuries had to pass before white guilt emerged from the bubble of academic theory and became a thing for the professors to pound into the empty heads of students. White guilt somehow manages to co-exist on the campus with a non-judgmental attitude toward other cultures. I’m thinking now of an article in Science magazine where the author has no opinion about the Aztec practice of tearing the beating hearts from victims, splitting their heads apart, and then stacking the skulls by the tens of thousands. Who are we, pinned like butterflies on a board by the guilt assigned to us for the sins of colonialism, to say one culture is better than another? That the Spanish conquistidors, cruel as they were, conquered and extinguished an ever crueler society, is not to their credit by today’s reckoning.
The village abounds with squirrels, gray like the glossy, well-fed deer who travel in herds up to twenty. Ever now and then a squirrel takes it into its head to gnaw through one of our walls. They give up after taking paint off down to the bare wood. A chipmunk lives on the property, digging tunnels faster than I could close them up before I thought it’s his home as much as ours and ceased my pursuit. Old school but soft hearted. In the winter I feed it birdseed in the cleft of a stump that only he or she and the smallest squirrels can reach. It makes the chipmonk aggressively territorial and he chases off squirrels four times bigger. Sometimes there are staring contests at the stump.
The other night I got up for something and when I switched on the hall light there was a black spider as big as my hand on the floor bound for one of the bedrooms. The very embodiment of sinister, it froze as if it knew in the sudden light that escape was impossible and doom was at hand, which it was. I looked him up on Google and one very much like him was listed as poisonous. From his size, he must have lived with us quite some time. My wife just now called me into her office to dispatch a smaller look-alike on the curtain.
Something is always trying to get in. Birds fly at the windows, knocking themselves senseless and falling to the ground. My wife Googled the problem and learned we are not supposed to interfere, so we watch them slowly return from a heap of feathers with wings jutting at an angle until consciousness is regained. It took twenty minutes in one case.
We were driving to town the other day and by the side of the road I saw a bird acting so strangely that I stopped the car to watch. It was fluttering above the ground, at times diving down claws first. Then I saw the black snake moving at a good speed for cover. I was stopped with traffic due any second and my wife pointed out the danger of being rear ended, otherwise I would have waited to see the outcome and figure out what kind of bird it was. One of the smaller raptors with an appetite for snake is what I thought. We see turkey vultures on our street from time to time tidying up a squirrel flattened by a car. Dozens meet that fate in our village; it’s commonplace to see birds feeding on them, crows in particular. They are a highly intelligent species, admirable in their way. We hear them talking among themselves some mornings; ornithologists say they have a grammar of their own. Their caws and cackles sound scornful and mocking to my ear, even ironic, but perhaps it is only imagination. They will take everything from our bird feeder if we let them; their eyesight is keen and take wing at the slightest movement at the window. They are said to have excellent memories and will avoid fields for years where one fell to an aggrieved farmer or a teenager working on his marksmanship.
The left is reshaping our culture to their liking, removing statues and names on buildings with a potential for hurting the feelings of the young or inciting the fury of the grievance trade and its virtue signallers. The cleansing movement has moved into the book industry, claiming the scalp of Laura Ingalls Wilder of “Little House on the Prairie” fame. Failing to peer into the future when a vengeful touchiness would hold sway, she described things and expressed the attitudes of her time. The children’s library people have ordered her books removed from the shelves because what might have been true when Indians were a threat to life and limb cannot today be mentioned because of the certified victimhood that has been extended in recent times to transgender people. They are .0003% of the population, by the way, though from the media you might hazard the guess they are fully a quarter of the whole. In Britain, the book publishers have decreed that by 2030 fiction will be published according to the demographics that prevail at the time. Caucasians be be allotted a quota as will the other races. Better to channel fiction in approved directions at the source rather than wait for it to be written and rejected on account of the pie chart.
In this country, the employment rolls in book agenting and the publishing houses are 78% female. That means the New York City bottleneck familiar to anyone who writes is now the size of a pinhole for white males like Yr Obedient Servant. My “The Horror Writer” has as a main character a man who sold his self-published books from a wheelbarrow on Market Street, tap dancing to draw customers. I joked about doing that to my agent at the time and she asked in all seriousness, “Would you be willing to do that?” The book did well in the early going, getting a 10 out of 10 score and a “Superb” from the reviewer in the BookLife contest that Publishers Weekly runs every year. But I was edged out in the semi-finals by a woman who had a man masturbating in her first paragraph. The old school me set aside at that point. Philip Roth, the fountainhead of this kind of writing, said late in life he didn’t care for “Portnoy’s Complaint” and wished he hadn’t written it. It was decades before he was fully forgiven by Jews for disgracing them.
A bat has resumed evening residence after the hunt , dropping little black turds in the breeze way to inform me of this fact. He and I have contested his right to that corner for years. Moth balls work for a while but lose their potency. I have a awakened in the wee hours and flashlight in one hand and broom in the other dislodged him. I could have finished him off as he collected himself on the ground where he landed, but old softy me couldn’t bring myself to lower the boom. They look like fanged and furred origami with wings like partly unfolded umbrellas. So I will hang some fresh mint from the garden–the deer never bother that. Its strong, sweet smell works on bats as well as moth balls. But when it withers, he will return. They can live as old as forty years. I read somewhere that they are an endangered species. But not by me. He has been with us fourteen years now. Time flies.