Nature Notes: Lessons From the Deer

The “Bambi Syndrome”
In that 20-or-so-mile stretch including Montauk Highway, Bluff Road, Further and Dunemere Lanes, Route 114, and Noyac Road, there were no less than 80 deer. John Schoen

   There’s a war on locally. I don’t mean the war on D.W.I.s or the war on drugs, I mean the war on the white-tailed deer, Odocoileus virginiana. It was here on Long Island before we were, even before the first Amerindians, and is the only member of the antlered-mammal family native to Long Island, we never had moose, elk, or caribou. Apparently, being too native is similar to being too alien. I once heard a well-known gourmet writer on North Haven call them “rats.”
    Coming back from the end of East Lake Drive in Montauk after the Montauk Christmas bird count a few Saturdays ago, it was just getting dark when I started out, pitch black when I arrived home in Noyac. In that 20-or-so-mile stretch including Montauk Highway, Bluff Road, Further and Dunemere Lanes, Route 114, and Noyac Road, I counted no less than 80 deer. There were 20 in Montauk, a handful on Napeague, 60 more in the Village of East Hampton, where it begins just east of Two Mile Hollow Road to the ocean.
    The adults were grazing peacefully; some of this year’s fawns were feeling their oats and frolicking. Apparently, the elders knew that they were safe in the village because when I stopped to observe them as well as about 1,000 Canada geese foraging beside them in the spacious still-green fields that used to be part of the Rock Foundation property on the north side of Further Lane, they paid me no mind. In a word, they were in deer heaven.
    I did count one very freshly killed doe on East Lake Drive’s shoulder. It wasn’t there when I came by the other way four hours earlier. What to do, what to do? Growing up on the North Fork in the 1940s and 1950s I might see a deer or two every other year, the kind of observation that would end up in the weekly paper as a headline — “Farmer sees deer in field.” Now deer have become so commonplace on the East End that the newspapers only tell us over and over in smaller print how commonplace they’ve become, nothing about their grace and beauty, nothing about their nativity, only negativity.
    For centuries the newspapers never had much good to say about the local Indians, as well. It’s only lately that they have warmed up to them a little, but not to the point where any of us are willing to give them some of their lands back. Ownership of land backed by titles and deeds is an English invention. In the heyday of conquering hordes, later of diplomatic imperialism, the invaders and intruders merely claimed the land for their kings. No, no one bothered with signed and notarized legal documents to back their claims.
    Well it’s the Christmas season (or should I say more politically correctly) the holiday season, and we are confronted with an odd paradox. We welcome the annual arrival of Donner, Blitzen, and the rest of the gang from up north, at the same time wishing that their cousins here on the South Fork would just go away. If some of us object to this double standard, it is called the “Bambi Syndrome,” a kind of disease like Autism, Asperger’s syndrome, or dementia.
    Deer are not suicide bombers or jihadists out to destroy the rest of us. They don’t have stocks of chemical and nuclear weapons, they don’t know how to fire AR-15s. They do indulge in combat charades, but only in the way we, ourselves, used to play cops and robbers, cowboys and Indians when we were kids. One deer very, very rarely harms another, say in the way that a male lion will eat an unattended cub if he’s hungry enough.
     In that respect one might say, deer are more highly evolved than humans. Interestingly, in this regard, white-tailed deer have a matriarchal culture. Hmmm, I wonder what human culture would be like if it were more matriarchal and less the other way?
    I’ve observed deer, hunted deer, suffered from post-Lyme syndrome, and dreamt about deer. I regularly have deer in my yard in Noyac, even though my lot is less than a quarter acre in size. I should be concerned — I have a lot of potted plants, a lot of plants in the ground, no lawn to speak of. But I’m not. Let’s say they visit me regularly, stay for a bit, and then pass on. My wife and I are mindful of them, happy when they’re around, happy when they’ve passed on.
    The more I see of them and come to know them the more I am in wonder of them. I know I will never be able to totally fathom them, and though I know Russian and Mandarin, I’ll never be able to communicate with them in their language. They have such a simple regimen. The does are very mindful of their fawns, the males don’t indulge in pedophilia and other bizarre acts, they all seem to get on with each other with very little internecine strife. They seem to have their own set of Commandments which they follow better than we follow ours.
    We hustle and bustle, fight with and envy our neighbors, spend inordinate time at malls and recreating, fret and worry over the simplest of dilemmas, need to drink, smoke, take meds, have trouble sleeping, have to spend an inordinate amount of time doing paperwork and so on. I’ve been looking for a trouble-free existence throughout my 77 years. If there was such a thing as reincarnation, I might like to come back as a deer.