I was out with the dog, thinking of what I would do when the dog was done with her doo, when I spied two big white-tailed deer looking at me.
I could tell they were looking at me because, after the dog made her environmental contribution, one deer tensed as I reached into my pants pocket to pull out a biodegradable poo bag.
The dog glanced up at me and then caught the deer’s scent. She turned, glared and bent one foreleg, as if to say, I may be small and terminally cute, but nobody watches me poo without my knowing it.
I held the dog back because I had heard from a local naturalist that a deer will attack and stomp a dog to death if it feels threatened. This naturalist, whose full-time job is to take groups of all ages, abilities and disabilities on tours of the wilder parts of our county, told me the key to appreciating nature is to look, listen, smell (especially in the springtime) take pictures but and don’t even try to get close. Animals can carry ticks, fleas and bugs that can give you anything from Lyme Disease to Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever.
So much for that kid-type attitude, encouraged by so many children’s books and Disney films, that animals are just like us except they’re…animals. But, as I admired these deer from afar, I couldn’t help but wonder what would happen if my grown-up life were just a little bit more like my childhood, when everything was alive, everything could talk and nobody asked questions about where the hamburger came from.
If I was a regular kid-type kid, I would want to talk to those deer. The first thing I would do is wave. Then I’d slowly approach and tell the deer I’m not the neighbor who lives across the street and likes to hunt.
The deer doesn’t believe me. Right off the bat, the deer asks me. “Why do you think you’re doing us a favor by killing as many of us as possible?”
“I don’t. But those that do say they want to thin the herd so there are just enough of you to eat whatever you find in the forests and not be tempted to mess up our gardens and eat all our vegetables.”
“I wouldn’t eat your vegetables if they weren’t so good. You should take it as a compliment.” The deer looks at my pocket. “You packing? You carrying anything that needs a permit?’
I shake my head. I see a worried expression cross the deer’s muzzle.
“I’m still not understanding this hunting thing. Why is it that you like having us around and then one week comes around where you’re our worst enemy?”
“Human beings can be nice neighbors,” I say, somewhat embarrassed. “We can do nice things for each other. But then we become offended, greedy, nasty, reckless or just plain inconsiderate, and that starts us hunting.”
“Us?” the deer says, offended.
“Ourselves. We hunt each other.”
The deer tells me I should learn how to hide. “Wear camo. Move silently and fast.”
“We can do that, but, most of the time, it isn’t anything that shoots that destroys us. It’s the words.”
The deer looks at me oddly. “What did I say about moving silently? You can’t go fast if you’re talking. Move fast enough and you don’t have to listen. Just go! It works for us. It should work for you. One of these days we’ll figure this hunting season out and we will be somewhere else when the shooting starts.”
I can’t help but add, “we also have people who just go crazy and start shooting.”
The deer shakes his head. “We don’t do that. Life is too precious.”
I become silent and then, as it happens with any encounter with the town’s wilder inhabitants, the deer suddenly run away, back to the no-human’s land of meandering creeks and towering trees that developers didn’t cut down.