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A ‘deerly’ affection to wildlife

arrived in Farmville eight years ago with sentimental ideas regarding deer. My impressions had been formed in suburban neighborhoods where people decorated their homes with deer-themed decor. Pictures of majestic bucks hung over mantles, antlers served as candleholders, and plaques made amusing puns, such as, “I love you deerly.”

The soil of my imagination had been fertilized for growing such notions by watching the animated movie “Bambi” and reading children’s stories illustrated with adorable fawns. Even biblical texts had taught me to admire deer. Psalm 18 likens the nimble footedness of a deer with the ability to stand in holy places, and Psalm 42 compares a deer’s yearning for water with the soul’s desire for God.

When I moved into my Farmville home, I loved the fact that deer frequently passed through my backyard. If I sat still by a window, sometimes I could catch a glimpse of a doe leading a pair of fawns or a group of deer rummaging along the edge of the woods. Whenever the animals would wander into view, my husband and I would stand speechless, watching in awe as nature revealed these beautiful creatures.

My neighbors didn’t share my point of view. When I mentioned the deer in my yard, one neighbor told me I could string a line of pie tins on a fence to scare them off. Another explained that stores sold deer repellents and someone else gave me a recipe for a homemade concoction. I listened politely, but didn’t take any action. I just continued to admire the deer that called our neighborhood home.

The arrival of hunting season taught me that many folks admire deer for entirely different reasons. I had to open my mind to new points of view, let go of some emotion and recognize that people have been eating venison for at least as long as deer and humans have shared common habitats.

Then I noticed a row of bushes along the front of my yard wasn’t thriving uniformly. At one end of the row, lush plants stood about three feet high. At the other end, the bushes were only half as tall. They resembled stacks of twigs. A handful of leaves that kept trying to sprout gave me hope that the plants were still alive. The pitiful bushes were planted closest to the path most favored by the neighborhood deer. I recognized the relationship, and when I later saw deer in the yard I felt a bit miffed about the nibbling.

Next came the garden. I thought that if I planted enough tomatoes, there would be plenty to share. Apparently, there’s no such thing as enough and deer don’t share. My tomato harvest last year didn’t produce enough to toss a salad. The deer simply ate each budding flower as it appeared, and the fruit never had a chance to grow.

This year I thought I was ready to put out the pie tins and shop for repellent. I even did a little research to learn about flowers and shrubs deer are supposed to find unpalatable.

Then one day last month, my husband and I came home from running a few errands to find a tiny fawn lying perfectly still just outside our front door. It couldn’t have been more than a few days old, perhaps only a few hours old.

Through participation in the Virginia Master Naturalist program, I had learned that this is typical behavior for deer. The infant hadn’t been abandoned. It had been left intentionally in a place where its mother felt it would be safe. My doorstep.

The doe had apparently chosen well. For the next few hours, my husband and I watched over the fawn by peeking through a front window. We missed the magic moment when the mother returned, but somewhere between dusk and dark the fawn was gone.

I never made it to the store to buy deer repellent and I’ve put my pie tins away. I’m even hoping the new deer family likes the munchables in my yard. At twilight you’ll find me peering out the window, searching the shadows for a glimpse of the pair I now love so deerly.

Karen Bellenir has been writing for The Farmville Herald since 2009. Her book, “Happy to Be Here: A Transplant Takes Root in Farmville, Virginia” features a compilation of her columns. It is available from PierPress.com. Her email address is kbellenir@PierPress.com.