Monday, September 29, 2008

SEWANEE COWS

There they were this morning, emerging from a transitional area between forest and thicket–brazen, cud-chewing, white-tailed deer headed for my lawn where they soon began munching leaves and grass while eying the bed of dying flowers. There they went when I tapped on the glass, each one using four hooves which hit the ground all at once as they bounded away from the sound of fingers rapping against the glass.

I’ve written three poems about the handsome deer that often graze on my lawn and confess that when I leave Sewanee next month, I’ll miss those great soft eyes that stare at me before they turn to graze on the yellowing grass, totally unconcerned about my words of banishment. When my daughter, Stephanie, visited me this summer, she was outraged because I shooed these creatures out of the yard. A cat lover, Stephanie thinks all animals should be petted, abetted, and befriended. While she was here, I’d search for her before breakfast and would find her and her husband on the front porch watching the deer and making “come here” noises to the critters.

I’d like to believe that my daughter’s enthusiastic response to the deer can be traced to my reading aloud to her THE LION, THE WITCH, AND THE WARDROBE by C. S. Lewis when she was a pre-schooler and became enchanted with one of the amusing characters in this novel, the fawn with deer legs. Certainly, Lewis was deeply fond of deer and had rooms next to Deer Park at Magdalene College, Oxford.

Although the deer appear as charming other-world creatures in Lewis’s fantasy novels, and Stephanie listened well when I read to her from THE NARNIA CHRONICLES, I think that her love of animals actually burgeoned when we acquired a beloved cat in Iran, Roya, the Persian Princess. Roya migrated back to America with us, then ran off with an alley cat, just like Mehitabel in ARCHY AND MEHITABEL. She had been kept behind locked doors in Iran , and we would have veiled her had we thought it would keep her from pining for the skinny toms who scratched at her window as she looked out at the desert world. After settling in America, Roya took moonlight walks all night, and a stringy gray tom next door wailed a Romeo aria to her each morning. Stephanie was disconsolate when Roya ran off with this gray tom, and after she married, she made up for this loss by acquiring eight cats. That is, she took care of eight felines until yesterday morning when she called to say that she had “put down” (as animal lovers say) one of the eight very fat cats, her 14 yr. old De-De, and now she has only seven. I tried to subdue her by telling her about sighting several deer, but she wasn’t buying consolation – no Bambi stories for her yesterday!

Since Stephanie’s visit, I’ve stopped yelling at the deer. Now, I just tap the window glass. I’ve also decided against purchasing “Deer Out,” a repellent that can be applied to flowers and edible fruit (like the prized wild blueberries growing in the front yard that the deer gobbled up). Actually, I shuddered after reading an article in “The Messenger” about the deer culling that occurs at Sewanee every year when trained marksmen use bow and arrow to decimate the deer population.

As I said, now, when deer appear, I just rap the window, stare into their large, beseeching eyes, and ask them to go away. Sometimes they stop and stare back at me, but most of the time they leap away –to hide behind the hemlock tree in another part of the yard!! Here’s one of the snippets I wrote about deer for my chapbook, JUST PASSING THROUGH, last summer:

SEWANEE COW RETURNS

She looked at me quizzically
when I spoke to her,

yelling from the open window,
and, unabashed, she lifted her mule ears

to hear my admonition
that she shouldn’t eat our plants,

that she had no shame,
creature so cavalier,

returning to the crime scene of her first repast.

I go out on the porch,
tell her to leave,

she stares me down,
I am the intruder,

she is the graceful deer, habitat known,
what do you know? she seems to ask.

It’s true, she senses that I’m lost,
led into anonymity,

that I’m a ‘come here’ searching for place
where I can graze with confidence…

savor newfound plants.
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