Connections: Dinner on the Lawn

   Three big does are concentrating on tufts of early grass at the left side of the front yard this evening. They, or their sisters and brothers, have already dined on the snowdrops in the backyard, although they haven’t eaten up the small daffodils that are just budding, at least not yet.
    Sitting at my computer at the front of the house, I can see what they are up to. I spy on them as they come and go, mingling among what remains of the many-decades-old rosebushes they decimated last summer.
    These three does are probably the same ones that watched me drive away from the house early this morning. They’re a wily bunch. A few nights ago I spied 6, hiking diagonally across the yard, and, about 10 days ago, I counted 12 marching through, moving quickly.
    I wonder where all these animals go when they aren’t in my yard. The adjacent properties are protected by deer fences; are the deer slinking across Main Street to some secret deer reconnaissance site?
    As I sit looking out the window I am eating an early supper of asparagus and a vegetable chili made with . . . venison. How do you like that, deer?
    (The recipe, on an old yellowed clipping, comes from The Star’s “Long Island Larder” column, which was written for many years by Miriam Ungerer. Miriam, who lives in Massachusetts now, told me the other day that someone was interested in publishing another book of her recipes, using that title. Miriam has four cookbooks to her name and it’s time she added a new one. I hope it happens.)
    It must be obvious that I am not squeamish about venison, or wild fowl, or any wild edibles, for that matter, having been treated to these local foods from the earliest days of my marriage to Ev Rattray. He was brought up here and had hunted most of his life. One day, though, after our first child was born and John F. Kennedy was assassinated, he decided to put away his shotgun. “There has been enough killing in the world,” he said.
    That didn’t keep us from enjoying others’ quarry. We rationalized it, telling ourselves that it would be worse to waste something that had already been shot. For about 10 years, we were the recipients once a year of a deer that had been hunted on Gardiner’s Island. It would hang in the barn for a time before being taken to a butcher. We liked to make venison stews, and most of the recipes are still around. I am pretty sure we never made venison chili back in those days.
    The chili, with zucchini and peppers and carrots and, of course, beans, was really good. If you told anyone it had been made with beef, they wouldn’t have known the difference. The venison arrived in three huge frozen patties from a friend of a friend of a friend. I guess the intermediaries are a bit squeamish.
    In a Star editorial last week, David Rattray blamed deer for destroying the understory of the woods, suggesting that hunting might be the only practical way to bring their population into balance with that of other woodland creatures, including birds. This week, we will publish a letter from Bill Crain, president of the East Hampton Group for Wildlife, who argues against hunting and believes that immunocontraception would work and should be tested.
    I’m of many minds about what would be the right thing to do. Clearly, something must be done. Maybe there is more than one solution. But although tonight’s juxtaposition of does on the lawn and venison chili in my dinner bowl was rather startling — if admittedly somewhat amusing — I am not going to become a vegetarian any day soon.