Thursday, August 10th, 2006
Last week, we had three visitors in the back yard. I saw the first one when I passed by the back door. There she was, approaching the steps. What attracted her? The flowers on the porch? Or was she only making her away around the house toward the fig tree and its branches hanging low with the weight of green fruit?
I think she heard me through the glass door when I gasped and called to Darwin. She turned and skittered back toward the treeline, toward the gap in the broken-down fence that separates our property from the patch of woods on our neighbor’s land.
That’s when I saw the other two, a boy and a girl. Her children from a previous season, Darwin guessed.
They didn’t retreat all the way to the woods. The call of the figs must’ve been too strong, and the three deer stood in our yard for many minutes. I imagined the mother weighing the danger against the food, her ears twitching for stray sounds, the teenagers letting her listen for them while they bit at deerflies.
Then we noticed the mother was pregnant. Three lives depended on her to make the right decision.
In the end, she turned and led her children back through the gap in the fence. Gave up the figs or whatever she was after in exchange for their safety. Maybe they came back after dark or maybe not.
But while they were in our yard we watched them with a sense of wonder. It was like glimpsing a bit of a magical world, an alternate realm. (Okay, now I know I’ve been watching too much Charmed.)
It’s hard to reconcile these lithe and ethereal creatures with the disembodied head hidden in the front bedroom. Yes, you read that right. We own – and even once displayed – a taxidermy deer head.
Darwin shot the buck four years ago, in the first autumn of our marriage. He’d never killed a deer so big – an 8-point (which for you non-hunters means he had 8 points on his antlers) – and my mother of all people guilted me into letting him spend the $300 to get it mounted. “It’s his first big deer; it means so much to him,” all said in the same voice she used to tell me to cook him a grilled cheese sandwich.
Of all the bad purchases and money wasted in my life, I regret that $300 most. It’s right up there with the tickets for the Talladega race we didn’t get to see. (I’m fulfilling all the Alabama stereotypes in this one post.)
At our previous two houses, Darwin hung the thing in the living room. Yes, yes it’s true. I looked a dead deer in its glass eye every single day.
How did I tolerate such a thing, you ask? Believe it or not, I am no stranger to dead deer. As a child, I even liked to pet them, to rub the coarse tan and white hairs, to touch the hard black nose.
My grandfather lived and died an outdoorsman and avid hunter, and he taught my father to be the same way. When I was young, hunting was my father and my father was hunting. My early memories of him all involve camouflage.
But with age, my father mellowed. He realized that what he liked about hunting was enjoying the quiet and that magic nature world, watching the deer, not killing them.
I grew up around hunting, so I don’t believe it’s automatically wrong. Killing multiple deer each year, just for sport? That makes me a little squeamish. But killing one or two and eating the meat, as Darwin’s family still does? I am okay with that. I’m not a vegetarian, so how can I argue that it’s any different from eating a cow or a chicken? Besides, deer sausage is surprisingly yummy.
As for Darwin, he let his membership to the hunting club lapse a few years ago, but this year he’s back in. He’s doing it to spend time with his father more than anything. That’s why I said nothing when he told me that’s how he’ll be spending all his spare time come November. In November, the redneck, caveman, me-hunt-big-deer side of Darwin can come out in full force. He’ll wake up ridiculously early and come home late smelling bad and wearing camo.
I am such a patient wife. All I want in exchange is the bathroom finished before then.