Inconvenient News,
       by smintheus

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

  The Deer War

Milo was traveling last week along Route 6, for what purpose is unclear. Anyway he stopped to get some local honey, and sent this along. I thought it was remarkable.

“A few decades ago I moved here to central Pennsylvania. Never meant to stay more than a short time, actually. I planned to move somewhere more cosmopolitan, like Pittsburgh, but I couldn’t get the permits I needed anywhere I really wanted to live. It was the land that kept me here, for better or worse.

“The land was basically uninhabited then. Not the best terrain, but talk about cheap.

“This is apple honey, that’s buckwheat. Yeah, the flavors are quite different. Here’s a spoon. Would your daughter like some pastelli? It’s honey and sesame candy. Don’t bite off too much, dear, or you’ll never manage to chew it!

“Actually, an acquaintance of mine had gotten some land down the hill, and he held onto it for several decades before I bought it from him. He tried farming it, but had no luck. Didn’t get on with the locals either. I got it from him cheap. That was the first parcel I picked up. Over the years, I got a lot more parcels, here and there.

“At first I didn’t know what I was going to do with his land, I just wanted to have it. Really cheesed off the farmer down the road, heh, thought he was going to get it to plant. Then this plot came up for sale. It was forest, which gave me the idea it might be good for an orchard.

“The real estate agent was trouble, as those kinds of people are. He’s got that house just off Route 6, with the burned out ‘pergola’ in front.

“Pretty dark, that one. Color of molasses. You won’t see any darker, not in these parts. I like the apple better, just my taste though.

“Some hunters wanted to buy this plot, and the agent was annoyed that I outbid ’em. Kept telling me that it’s a dear highway between this ridge and the state hunting lands. ‘You’ll never get an orchard to take,’ says. ‘Deer will eat the seedlings right down to the ground.’ Some truth to that, but nothing as bad as he claimed. Just trying to sell the land to the locals. That’s the real problem round here, the locals. Practically gotta fence them out.

“Got to thinkin’, deer don’t go for figs. Cleared ten acres and put in a fig orchard. Put in another thirty acres the next year. Figured I could get these people to buy my figs, since nobody else around here has them.

“That went on for about seven – six – years. The trees kept dieing back over the winter. Figured they just needed to settle in for a few years, before they’d take to the climate. Wasn’t gonna let the locals laugh me out of business either. But I donnow, I was almost running the well dry watering them every year.

“A quart? Sure, I’ve got plenty.

“Anyhoo, the trees were just taking too long to settle, and by that time I’d bought some more parcels, so I pulled them out and stuck in a bunch of stuff, mostly apricot and pear n’ cherry, some apple too.

“Hadn’t figured on the deer eating the seedlings down to the ground the first winter. I’m tellin’ ya, I was ready to…

“Anyway I replanted, and the deer kept doing their best to ruin the orchard. Kept replacing what they killed. But I got tired of this cat and mouse game. Always chasing them off the land, then they’d come at night.

“I got smart finally and put up some fencing. Shoulda put up the 8 ft. stuff the guy in Benny’s wanted to sell me, but figured the 4 ft. ought to work. I mean, c’mon, what are the deer going to do, jump over it? Spent the whole summer putting up miles of fencing. I have some plots along the next road over too, so they had to be fenced in completely. Here I didn’t bother fencing along the road at first, but the deer went around so I had to do the road as well. Nothing worked. The damn deer just bounded over it like it wasn’t hardly there.

“I wasn’t gonna make that mistake again, so I got some guns and…yeah I took the direct route, started blasting them whenever they appeared. Takes a lot of vigilance. A lot of vigilance, let me tell you. All hours of the day and night, lying in wait. Don’t seem to smarten up, the deer, they just keep coming.

“The local ‘hunters’ of course complained. The game wardens can’t prove anything though, heh, and they can’t be bothered to keep coming out here. Haven’t even seen one in a few years now.

“Thought I finally had the deer beaten, but then one Christmas when I was away for a week they came and hit the trees real hard. They just pruned them way back. Lost a year or two’s growth right there, in a single week. Boy, I was really ready to…

“The next year I planted corn around the perimeter of the fence, thought it would block them out. It just seemed to attract more deer, though, so I’ve pretty much stopped bothering.

“But that gave me an idea, I finally got smart. Put out a salt lick by the edge of the woods in sight of the house. Those damn deer just flocked to it. Musta killed twenty, thirty in the first week. Just sat in the TV room and picked them off, easy as that.

“Woulda been the end of all my problems, right there, ’cept the neighbor over the ridge, Morgan, put out some salt licks in his woods to draw the deer away. Thought he’d outsmarted me, but I showed him.

“The deer just kind of regrouped I guess, and started making incursions like into whatever orchard I wasn’t in at the time. I tried shooting randomly into the wood line, to keep them off guard, but they figured that game out quickly.

“Finally got smart and decided to root them out. I started making incursions into the woods, looking for where they bed down. Caught a few fawns, but mostly I was just wiping out their favorite spots.

“Then I got smart. The deer really love this Russian olive plant, and they need it to survive in the winter. It’s everywhere in the woods, grows like a weed, so I set about cutting it out. Got rid of it in my woods, but Morgan and his son-in-law Follweiler didn’t want me cutting in their woods, so I had to do my best when they weren’t around, know what I mean?

“Damned if that winter the deer aren’t all over my orchards. It was like an invasion, every time I turned around. They were just wiping me out. Got some dogs, which worked for a while, but by the spring the deer had got smart to them. Knew they couldn’t chase them beyond the fences. Just drove the dogs crazy, and here I’m listening to them barking all the time.

“Finally got a bit of an apple crop that spring. None of the pears or apricots have set any fruit yet, and the cherries turned out to be ornamental so they don’t produce anything. That’s another story. What a joke those cherry trees are.

“Anyway, the apples set fruit for once, and everything is great for about a month. Then guess who shows up?

“No, it wasn’t the bees, darling. Are you done with that pastelli already?

“Deer came in and took every apple within reach. As if that wasn’t enough, they also ripped up a few dozen seedlings I was hoping to graft next year. You shoulduv heard the language around here. I wasn’t going to take no more of this, no sir. Now it was personal, like.

“I gathered up my stuff – I’d been plannin’ this out – and headed up to Morgan’s salt lick to spread out some poison. There weren’t any deer about, but what’d you expect? They always manage to evade ya, like they’ve got sensors or something. So I went on to Morgan’s farm. He lets ’em graze his stubble and bed down in his woods, so he had it coming.

“Tried to set his oat field ablaze, just to teach ’im, but it sputtered out after a bit. Wind was blowing the wrong way, as it always is it seems. Anyway so I set his barn on fire. Hadn’t realized he had most of his sheep inside with the new lambs. Morgan came out his house screamin’ an’ hollerin’, but it didn’t do him any good. He pretty much lost everything ’cept a few rams that were out to pasture. I left his house alone, though, his wife being an invalid an’ all.

“Follweiler was gonna be trouble, I knew that. His barns are steel and most of his equipment was lent out right at that moment. So I headed into town to visit the library. Can you believe Follweiler, heh, is on the Library Board? The guy can barely read a newspaper, I swear.

“Anyway, I set fire to the library and this time the winds helped to whip it up. You shoulda seen the Librarian run for cover! Never saw her move so fast.

“Follweiler sells a lotta produce in the summer to Tipton’s Market, so I headed in there and wiped out the produce tables. The ones out front I tipped over, but inside I just pushed everything on the floor and made sure to stomp it. Tipton was out to lunch and the cashiers just looked on in amazement as I wiped them out, short and sweet like. You shoulda seen the looks I got from the customers. But what’d they think I’d do? This has been goin’ on for years, and it’s gotta stop.

“Then I went out to Hemmerdinger bridge, that’s what the dynamite was for. You probably don’t remember it. It was a steel grate bridge on the road up to the fire house. The state police had to come into town that way too. Took it right out.

“Then I cut around the back of town and took care of Follweiler’s brother’s house – the one that had all those gables? – and then the two other Library Board members. Forget their names.

“We’ll have to see whether they learned their lesson. The real estate agent? Beauprez…nah, that was a different time.”

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