Dear deer

Dear deer,

It looks like I’ve spent a lot of money trying to make our lawn look nice so you can enjoy a nice salad bar at my expense. Chomp away, guys. That’s expensive grass that you are nibbling at, as evidenced by the hundreds of dollars I spent on lawn services last year. At the rate you are eating it, my expensive lawn is quickly moving from beautiful to looking like hell.

Oh, don’t deny it! The evidence is overwhelming. Remember that time when we unexpectedly arrived home around midnight after seeing a show? There were five of you on our front lawn, and not one of you was the least bit intimidated by our presence. It was our flowerbed, or what’s left of it, that you seem to have been concentrating on. You just looked at us with those Bambi eyes and seemed wholly unafraid. The only thing I picked up was, “Would you turn off the garage light? We can see fine without it. Thanks.” Eventually after many loud words you ambled across the drive to the pasture across the street.

Silly me, I was figuring the neighborhood dogs were to blame. The grass all along the sidewalks in particular look largely denuded. I figured it was due to too many dogs doing their business where they shouldn’t. The official dog walking area is across the street. But then I started to notice all sorts of places in our front yard far from the sidewalks were dirt, and the prints in the dirt were unmistakable. Those were not dog prints, but deer prints.

I hadn’t noticed you before because I am normally asleep when you are out. Oh sure, I take regular walks along Horsepen Run and occasionally I will see you guys among the trees. Mostly you hide real well, although on occasion I will see a family of you pass through the trees, sometimes oblivious to the human presence around you. I’m amazed that with all the development, that any of you can survive around here. The evidence though is that you are not only surviving, but you are flourishing. Exhibit Number One: my lawn. Those hoof prints are dead give away.

My wife saw you one the morning in our backyard, chomping away at the grass back there, grass that has been dormant since last fall. A split rail fence largely encloses our backyard. No matter. I can’t get over it without ripping my jeans, but it’s no problem for you. The whole lot of you simply bounded right over it into the next yard.

I don’t get into the backyard much, but I did today for my spring clean up. And clean up you did, with new bare spots back there that I cannot wholly attribute to growing trees along the property line. And then there are the hoof prints, more evidence that you guys love my backyard as much as my front yard.

I finally have a reason to own a gun. I certainly don’t need one to protect myself from thieves or other miscreants. But you deer, on the other hand, clearly are getting out of control. It’s just curious that in the twenty years I have occupied my house, you haven’t been a problem before. Now you are making a serious mess of my yard. It’s not just me. I take regular walks through the neighborhoods around here and I can see evidence on the other lawns as well. Seriously, if you think humans have a population control problem, if left to your own devices you guys will overrun the area!

In the past there were natural predators to keep you in check, but there are no coyotes or bears around here, so you just keep breeding and breeding. A gun though would provide plenty of free venison and considering how many of you there are, I doubt you’d miss Uncle Fred too much. There is, of course, the other minor problem in that I have never hunted in my life. Moreover, while I am sure many of my neighbors own guns, none of us are stupid enough to use them in the neighborhood. I mean, we have kids playing dodge ball in the streets around here.

I live in Fairfax County, Virginia. The county government is well aware of the deer problem, and the local papers have articles about the problem. In some forested areas, licensed hunters are allowed to hunt deer, but it’s a very limited sort of culling. Being that we’re all so educated, humane and stuff, to the extent we try to control the deer population, it is to shoot them not with bullets but with tranquilizers. Mostly it’s the female deer that are shot, and they get a quick little operation, and then are allowed to rejoin the herd where presumably they do not procreate anymore. It does sound humane, but I get the sense that our deer population is simply too large for such a program to have much effect on your population growth.

Perhaps there is stuff I can spray on the grass and gardens to deter you. I have heard that bear urine works pretty well. I may have to find a local bear and ask him to express some for me, but it looks like I need a lot of it. And call me suspicious, but I don’t think it will stop you from munching on my property. It apparently is just too tasty. Your eating habits plus the harsh winter has left a lot of soil erosion, so the grass is disappearing along the slope to our backyard. I figure I need to work on replacing the grass, but what’s the point if you guys are just going to nibble at it again? I am planning to move in a year or so, and I want a lush looking lawn. Who’s going to want to buy my house the way you guys are noshing at it?

So this is just a warning. I’ve checked regulations and apparently while I can own a gun or guns, I can’t actually discharge one in a residential area. (I am surprised the NRA does not call this gun control.) Archery, however, is allowed as a method for controlling deer in residential areas. I could get into that. What I need is a good crossbow. I’ll try not to scare the children however, and wait to do this until it is very dark. I’ll slip onto my porch around midnight on the pretext of stargazing or something. I’ll wait until you arrive around midnight and then cull your herd a bit. Maybe that will learn you.

I’m not into venison but I’m sure there are homeless people in the area not as particular. I don’t care how cute you look, there are way too many of you. You know it and I know it and our lawns prove it. If you value your lives, I suggest you do your dining elsewhere, hopefully deep in the woods.

You have been warned.

Mark, the pissed off human

A place called Oak Hill

My memories of November are typically memories of darkness and dreariness. Here in Virginia it means minimal daylight, with the sun approaching the horizon around 4:30 in the afternoon. It’s generally not cold enough to snow, but the weather patterns usually blow in moist air, which fills the skies with dark cumulonimbus clouds. Rain, when it falls, comes softly, often as a mist, and rarely with the intensity of summer-driven thunderstorms. The ground is awash with decaying leaves made slippery and soggy from the rain and drizzle.

This year is the exception. 2011 is the November of my dreams. We’ve had some days of dreariness, to be sure, but more typically days of brilliant blue skies, gentle breezes, low humidity and delightfully cool but not cold temperatures. The air starts out crisp in the morning; often a sheen of frost will be found on the tops of the cars. Then it turns into a day of sunny autumn splendor with temperatures sometimes making it into the sixties. The trees have only recently passed their peaks colors. The air feels unnaturally pure. It is hard not to roll down the car windows and let it fill your nostrils, consume you lungs and let it give your cheeks a rosy autumn hue. Instead of being a downer, this November is an upper. It is invigorating and is encouraging me out of my cloisters and into the neighborhood.

Oak Hill, Virginia

I have been on many walks around the neighborhood this month and all of them have been welcome. Aside from reveling in a natural form of exercise there is also the peaceful and content feeling that comes from traversing well trod paths and streets, and to do so largely absent the mosquitoes of spring and the oppressive heat, humidity and shrieking cicadas of summer.

I live in Oak Hill, Virginia, which is an unincorporated place that got an official name when a post office with its name was built in the late 1990s. If your zip code is 20171, you live in Oak Hill. Many of its residents have no idea they live in Oak Hill. If pressed they will substitute Herndon as their location, although we live outside its town limits. Oak Hill is a bedroom community, with some apartments, a few condominiums and townhouses, but mostly single family houses, virtually all of which are part of some homeowners’ association. Fifty years ago the area was largely farms. Community life such as it was could be found around small nearby hamlets like Floris and Hattontown. There were considerable numbers of African Americans living in Oak Hill then, and the younger ones trekked to Floris to attend the colored school there. (The schools were not desegregated until 1964.) We didn’t mean to, but we upwardly mobile overwhelmingly white middle class people pushed them out, thoughtfully aided by well moneyed developers who made them offers they could not refuse. Their houses came down. Dense townhouse and McMansion communities went up in their place. The cows left for greener pastures and houses were plopped down on top of them. Oak Hill was made safe for an upwardly mobile middle class. No white flight here. It would more accurately be called black flight, but this is never newsworthy when that happens.

Horsepen Run
Horsepen Run

Most of the nature that was here was pushed out with development, but not all of it. Some of it can still be found along Horsepen Run, which flows next to my community. The path is not long, but it is bucolic, particularly when there are enough recent rains to make the run actually run. You can easily spot the nearby houses through the trees, but it is comforting to know that civilization is so close by. The trees rustle in the wind, but less so when there are fewer leaves to rustle. Occasionally you will spot a deer peeking through the foliage, and sometimes they will appear boldly on the path.

Oak Hill may contain what’s left of Norman Rockwell’s America. With the largess of the federal government nearby, and plenty of beltway bandits as well along the nearby Dulles corridor, us residents generally don’t have to worry about unemployment. There are doubtless foreclosed homes in the community somewhere, but I cannot find any. Thanksgiving finds many of the homes planted with an American flag on the porch. Some of the more creative homeowners have creative autumn decorations on their houses or trees. A few spent Thanksgiving hanging Christmas lights and sticking plastic candy canes into their lawns. My two and a half mile constitutional this afternoon found my community seemingly untouched by the economic downturn. One of the few signs is spotting an extra homeless man on the sidewalks next to the local CVS. On Black Friday, residents not in the malls were outside enjoying the weather. Friendly dogs bounded around the front lawns. Leaves were raked and stuffed into bags. A few kids played hopscotch on their driveway.

There is no place like home, I guess, but to us harried professionals home often seems more a place to sleep before trudging back to the office. Home and neighborhoods often get overlooked because they are seen so often. Thank goodness then for beautiful November days, a long four-day weekend, and the opportunities for long walks through the neighborhood. In reality, it would have been harder to pick a more perfect neighborhood. It feels like the comfy glove that it is. It is mostly an illusion, a result of the confluence of capital and the energy of homeowners. Yet it all its surreal-ness it remains the beloved place we call home.