Even if Larry Penny, The Star’s resident expert on flora and fauna, hadn’t said so last week, I had already noticed that, as he put it, “In deer culture, learning to avoid cars and trucks is a trend that is gathering momentum.”
My own observation does not come from data, of the police or wildlife-society sort, but from my interaction with the family of four-footed ungulates that hang out in my neighborhood.
There are six of them, a family, I suppose. They had been habitués of my yard last winter but, during the warmer months, were fenced out of the garden behind Clinton Academy and from at least two of my neighbors’ verdant grounds, so they summered elsewhere. They made their reappearance with the first chill.
My guess is that they either are bedding down in the hedgerow between my house lot and the East Hampton Library, or perhaps on the far side of two huge evergreens near the property line on the other side, where a year’s accumulation of clippings and brush is soon to be removed. (Poor things. I hate to deprive them of their sleeping quarters.)
What convinces me that deer, in the village at least, are getting street-savvy about both sidewalk behavior and traffic are my own driveway encounters with them. Walking down the lane I live on, I’ve interrupted a gang of deer, only to have them stop, look about casually, and, after a nonchalant minute or two of further haughty looks, blithely prance over the split-rail fence to the library as if that were where they were going anyway. I’ve frozen them in the headlights of my car on arriving home after dark, only to have them hold their ground till I got tired of the standoff and slowly drove around. I’ve seen six hanging about on several recent mornings, when I was afoot, only to have a big doe actually chase me down the lane! The other day, sensing something behind me, I turned and gave Mme. Doe a hard look. She took it in stride, then ambled back in the direction from which she had come.
I enjoy seeing these deer even though they’ve destroyed the hydrangea and chewed off the ends of rosebushes in the yard. They remind me that this area is, despite all odds, still somewhat rural. Instead of arguing about whether deer should be fair game and if shooting them with contraceptives instead of arrows and bullets would work, could some entity or other create a preserve onto which they could be herded? They do it with much wilder animals in Africa, don’t they? Folks might not mind being taxed for one huge fence if they knew their own gardens would be safe from harm. Of course, this is not an original idea. The problem is that it requires open space, lots of it. And a large passel of deer wranglers.
In England some years ago, we picnicked at Woburn Abbey, a deer park not far from London. I checked it out today on the Web: Woburn Abbey encompasses 3,000 acres. That’s the size of all of Gardiner’s Island and almost as large as the City of Bayonne, N.J., where I grew up. So much for a game preserve.