Connections: Christmas Cactus

If I had known how hungry the deer were going to be, I might have been more watchful

    If federal sharpshooters show up here and pick off some deer, they won’t be acting on my behalf even though a resident deer family devoured the Christmas cactuses that were outside for the summer. The cactuses had gone out and in for years, flowering for Christmas, so I’m particularly aware of their loss this week. If I had known how hungry the deer were going to be, I might have been more watchful. Four small cactuses of the variety that blooms nearer Thanksgiving have taken their place, but they’re scanty substitutes.

    East Hamptoners of a certain age remember the large south-facing window  full of blooming cactuses at the Star Cleaners on Newtown Lane, where the James Perse men’s shop is today. The cleaners was not connected to this newspaper (except, come to think of it, it was run by family cousins), although we latched onto the metal outdoor letters spelling STAR when it went out of business. Our cactuses were never as gorgeous. I suppose the dining room, where they sat on a wide shelf under the windows, couldn’t compete in hours of sunlight, or in humidity.

    Not only did the deer lay waste to the cactuses, they also went after the rose bushes scattered about — the shipwreck rose, the David Austin, and the Bonica. It’s my own fault for failing to surround them with chicken wire. I mean, if you need to gird your roses with a protective screen, what’s the point?

    But the deer left me one consolation: They didn’t touch the huge jade that goes into the yard every summer and, this year,  is flowering. This plant, which has borne many offspring, must be at least 40 years old. It is an offshoot itself of a jade that continues to thrive in the Amagansett Rattray household. It grew too large for the sun porch here in the house, so I gave it a place of honor in one of the Star’s front windows. Now decorated with iridescent ornamental balls, it looks lovely and waits to catch the sun.

    A wildlife ecologist with the Humane Society of the United States, Laura Simon, was quoted in a story in The Star on Dec. 5 predicting that culling the deer population would be ineffective. She cited what she called a “bounceback effect” — an increase in fertility following population decrease.

    “Deer will have twins and triplets after their numbers have been reduced . . . and then their numbers will pop right back up.” She also said it was false hope to think eliminating some of the population would help decrease the incidence of Lyme and other tick-borne illnesses.

    “This is a multi-host tick. It’s on birds, small mammals, large mammals.” Mice and chipmunks, Ms. Simon said, are the primary hosts of larval ticks. “We’re not seeing this as an effective tactic anywhere, unless Long Island is planning to kill all its songbirds, raccoons, shrews, even salamanders. Unless they’re going to declare war on all wildlife, you’re not going to see a result from killing deer. It’s deceiving to people.”

    This comes as something of a revelation, I think, after all these years of blaming the deer.

    By the way, if anyone is interested, I’ve asked Santa to bring me some new Christmas cactuses, with the promise that I’ll protect them next year. I’d like them to live long enough to be handed down to the next generation, as mine were.