While paddling the Sangamon River, one of the more frequent spectators are the whitetail deer.
This trip was no different. Paddling along, I spotted a whitetail along the bank. Ears up, eyes wide, he seemed more curious than frightened. I approached calmly and quietly.
Deer are beautiful animals, but they’ve become a nuisance, encroaching on our farms and suburban gardens as we inexorably develop further and further out into the country.
As a matter of fact, a farmer buddy of mine and his wife recently obtained 21 ‘nuisance permits’ to ‘exterminate’ the deer that were damaging their crops and harming their farming operation. While unfortunate, such measures are necessary to control this nuisance, now effectively lacking in any natural predators, except us.
So as I slowly approached I pondered the deer with a mix of respect, curiosity, and pity. And he pondered me.
And then he did something I didn’t expect.
He looked at me then nodded his head as if to be pointing in a direction up the bank and away from the river. Then he looked down at me on the river and did it again.
Now I was curious. So I pulled my ‘yak up to shore and slowly got out. He headed up the bank, looking back to be sure I was following. It was as if he needed to show me something.
So I clamored up the bank and followed him to what appeared to be a little clearing in the woods. And when I got to the edge, he stamped his leg on the ground, looked at me and looked down as if to say, ‘you stay right here.’ So I did.
And I watched as he went off to join a group of deer assembled in the clearing.
They were sitting in a broad semicircle around one large buck standing in front of an old discarded picnic bench with several others looking on.
The large buck up front said “You may approach the bench.” And one deer approached. “Name?”
“John. John Deer.” He said.
“What can I help you with?” and John replied “Your Honorable Buck, I need a nuisance permit. It’s for those humans again.”
“Yes, I’ve been aware of the problem for some time. Prairies and forest become fields and farms, then come the flat rock paths, then the suburbanites and those rose gardens. These settlers just won’t stop occupying our territory!”
Just then another deer blurted out with a mix of emotion and rage, “Those hunters killed my mother!”
The buck spoke up “You really need to get over that, Bambi and become the Prince your father expects you to be.” Then another interjected, “Besides, Bambi, we’ve all heard your sad story many times before!”
Then a doe in the assembly tearfully cried out “They’ve killed so, so many, just like me!”
“Now, Jane, take it easy, we can manage this nuisance…” And Jane replied “Well I’ve seen those tombstones engraved with my name in their cemeteries…”
“Order! Order!” exclaimed the buck, “now John, how many permits will you be needing?”
“I’d say about 21 should do it” The large buck quickly replied “Well, given their reproduction rates, that seems reasonable. Done.” And then he looked up at John “And how do you intend to exterminate these nuisances, John?”
Then another deer with a bulbous red nose, excitedly jumped in: “I’ll help! I’ve been sharpening up the antlers lately. Man on deer! I could take ‘em!”
“Have you been drinking again, Rudolph?” the buck asked. “No, no, I..I shwear…!” Rudolph stammered.
Then John spoke up: “We’ll start with the crops. First the farms, then we’ll eat the gardens! We’ll starve them out!”
“That’s your problem John, you think you know so much about agriculture! Don’t you think hunters may be waiting for you in those fields?” asked the Buck.
“Then we’ll try chicken! My cousin says you can just stand still out on their flat rock path in their headlights at night and force their wheeled things off and they crash!”
“And have you seen him since he tried that?” asked the buck.
“Well, no,” John replied “…but I expect him back any day now…” then John added, “Well, if we have to, it’s divide and conquer! We’ll send the fawns out to graze by the flat rock path through their lake in the woods. That always turns the little humans against the hunters!”
Then John stopped and said, “hold on, I think I need to get this” And he put what appeared to be a cell phone up to his ear. “Hello, deer… yes, deer… no, deer. I’ll pick some up on the way home, deer.”
Which reminded me that I too should probably be moving along.
I left the clearing unsure of why the whitetail by the bank needed to show me this. Maybe he just wanted to show me they weren’t afraid to fight back.
We’ve probably become quite the nuisance to them, with our farms and suburban gardens inexorably encroaching further and further out into the country. But at the same time, I realized the futility of this enterprise. As the Native Americans learned centuries ago, the onslaught of the Europeans can be nearly impossible to stop.
And as I paddled away I pondered the whitetail on the bank with a newfound mix of respect, curiosity, and pity.
Appeared as Notes from the River, Mahomet Citizen, May 16, 2013, by Scott Hays