Thursday, October 6, 2011


One of the sights at Sewanee I’ll miss when I return to Louisiana next week is that of the deer that graze in the woods behind our cottage and near our front porch in the evenings. Although they usually ruin the flower beds we plant each Spring and pluck the blueberries before we have had a chance to harvest a few from our bush, I still like to see them and even talk to them when they graze close by.

Last week when I read an article in the Sewanee Messenger about deer management and culling, I felt a twinge of guilt about my romanticizing deer visits to our “domain.” The author of the article, Leslie Lytle, reported that management studies indicate the deer herd on The Mountain must be reduced by forty percent, resulting in a harvest of 236 and in reduction of the doe/buck ratio to 3:1. She stated that from 1700-1900, excessive deer hunting almost decimated the white-tailed population in this area, but we certainly see a gracious plenty of them on The Mountain now.

Designations like “Biological K” define the number of deer an area can sustain before disease and starvation affect the deer population; while “Social K” defines how much nuisance we humans on The Mountain can tolerate before a deer cull is called for. Lytle cited destruction to gardens and landscaping (such as our small flower beds), the incidence of Lyme disease from deer ticks, and “loss of biodiversity due to excessive understory vegetation” (the small woods fronting our property) as nuisances that call for culling.

The deer population at Sewanee seems to be approaching “Biological K” and has passed the “Social K” boundaries. So the hunt is on! The archers have sharpened their arrows and begun deer culling. Already, I see less and less does and more fawns nibbling the understory in the woods and trimming my lawn.

A few days ago, as I watched a fawn lying in the woods, I felt compelled to write a few lines of poetry, and the following day I wrote another poem when a fawn moved her grazing ground closer and closer to the front porch, only a few feet away from my chair. Here are the poems:

appears every evening, claiming her place
in a network of fern and ivy
while her mother crashes in the brush nearby;
and from the porch, we view her return
as sentiment for the thick ticking of green,
and, too, for us because we watch for her,
her round eyes aroused
when we click our tongues,
trying to woo her closer.

She is some kind of faith
in the softness of the world, resumed,
brooding in the coolness before first dark,
her heart revealed in eyes beckoning,
in the warm dust of her skin
we long to touch.

We hold her eyes until she disappears,
leaving a cup in the green spot
as her mother approaches
with her fear of death
and whisks her away,
leaving us with the whisper of leaves,
and a fragile grace filling moments behind.

She comes closer today,
the spotted fawn shyly eating,
nibbling at the last light of day.

She looks up at me,
inching slowly toward kissing noises,
the cautious welcome she once ignored.

Nearby, the men with taut bows are culling,
perhaps her mother’s heart cruelly pierced,
vanished at the dinner hour.

And so she seeks new warmth,
her dark mouth downturned, stealing my grass,
passing into another kingdom.

She reaches the porch,
regards me with eyes of promise,
both of us encouraged, wondering

if she will reach my fanned-out hands,
breathe her sadness into them,
an abandoned, yet welcomed creature

stepping through the scattered leaves,
pausing but not looking back
to the place where her mother has fallen,

already knowing
we cannot keep each other.

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