A little sleep lost: A fair price to pay for the proximity of deer

By Jayson Jacoby August 06, 2010 11:58 am

I was awakened on a recent morning, and long before dawn, by the bleating of a deer fawn, searching for its mother.

This is the sort of benign annoyance I happily endure for the privilege of sleeping so near to where deer walk.

And bleat.

Which is a slightly less happy circumstance, at least when the bleating deer happens to be bleating right outside my bedroom window at 4:20 a.m.

Nor did it improve my attitude that the fawn’s plaintive cries had frightened another youngster, this one a little girl who insisted on climbing into her parents’ bed.

I can confirm as a result that, on the spectrum of effective sleep-deprivation techniques, a whining deer falls far short of a three-year-old who kicks you in the shin every few seconds.

Or someplace more sensitive than the shin.

Although I suppose the fawn’s kick could cause real damage, what with the hard hooves.

The story apparently ended as I hoped it would, with a reunion of mother and offspring.

Lisa, who is accustomed to rising in the dark (she has what seems to me the peculiar notion that the first thing a person ought to do, upon achieving partial consciousness, is to go out and run), said the fawn had gotten separated from the rest of the herd that roams the Ellingson mill property. This is the kind of dilemma which nature, as it did in this instance, generally sorts out without any assistance.

This episode wasn’t the first in which the bond between fawn and doe has spoiled my slumber.

A few years ago, on a winter night, I jolted awake thinking someone was pounding on the front door.

But as I listened for half a minute or so I noticed that the sound had a metallic quality rather than the hollow thud of a fist rapping a door.

The culprit was a fawn trying to get to its mother on the other side of the cyclone fence that borders the mill parcel.

The fawn, being unable to leap the fence, was repeatedly crashing into it in a vain struggle to bust through. The sound I heard was the privacy slats rattling against the aluminum.

After a few minutes the fawn went bounding east on Auburn. I presume it found where the fence ends; I slept soundly until morning anyway.

In truth my list of grievances against deer is rather a long one; and inciting insomnia ranks well down on the roster.

In spring the deer delight in beheading Lisa’s tulips, sometimes even before the blooms have unfolded.

During winter, when snow covers the meager forage in the rangelands and forests, the deer abandon any semblance of discrimination in their diet and readily munch any vegetation they can get to.

Although their appetite for arborvitae bushes is particularly evident.

Over the course of several winters the deer so denuded the shrubs lining the north side of our place that we in the end surrendered, yanking the sickly skeletons out by their roots with the aid of a stout chain and a four-wheel drive pickup truck.

Another spring ritual, one which precedes the tulip executions, is when I clear the yard of the previous season’s accumulation of deer scat. Or thin it out, to be precise, as the little brown marbles, though they readily roll, also tend to become mired in tangles of thatch, and I have neither the patience nor the stomach to pluck the nuggets individually.

Instead I employ a plastic leaf rake for the job, coaxing the deer’s leavings into the flower beds where, so far as I know, they contribute to the fecundity of the soil. I like to think so, anyway, as the idea completes a sort of cycle, in which the deer’s casual toilet habits result in extra fodder for their stomachs some months on.

The deer, at any rate, seem to favor the arrangement.

Besides which, their lack of etiquette allows me to extend the utility of my rake. And although I’ve never heard the makers of rakes boast of it, I’d gladly give a testimonial that a properly deployed rake will dispatch willow leaves and deer excrement with nearly equal aplomb.

In early summer, when the hills are green and the forage still succulent, I rarely see a deer in my neighborhood.

But come the dog days and they prance back into the scene, lured by plants which receive regular dousings from our sprinklers.

As I said, I’m satisfied with this relationship, despite my occasional grousing about tattered tulips or a lawn used as a latrine.

It’s not that I feel I owe the deer anything.

Nor do I subscribe to the sentiment that, since the deer were here first and seeing as how I put a house where they used to browse, that I haven’t any legitimate grounds on which to complain about their less savory habits.

(Although I would entertain reasonable cash offers for the place should the deer be interested in dickering.)

I prefer, rather, to think of our circumstances as a generally peaceful kingdom in which I own the paper rights and the deer have a free and permanent easement.

But this is hardly a feudal system. We both profit from the deal, it seems to me.

I’m certain that my 9,000-square-foot plot produces considerably more calories now than before I moved in. And this larder is all on my tab — the deer didn’t chip in for the arborvitae, the tulip bulbs or the water bill.

But I don’t begrudge the deer for claiming their share — even though I’ve occasionally cursed them, and Lisa always laments her lost tulips. Neither of us wants to drive the deer away for all time (except when the time is 4:20 a.m.). And if I had truly wanted to save the arborvitae I could have encircled them in flexible fencing.

(Late amendment: Lisa’s patience is down to the most fragile of threads: It turns out that the deer trampled her fledgling sunflowers the same night of the bleating incident.)

What we get from the deer in compensation pays their bill in full.

In exchange for a lost hour of sleep I remember the snowy morning when a four-point buck rested for a couple hours beneath the swing set.

And the summer dawn when twin fawns, still wearing their white spots, frolicked in the empty lot that adjoins our yard.

And, most evocative for me, I savor the many mid-winter nights when I woke to check whether the temperature had dipped below zero and I saw the deer, their tawny coats distinct against the snow in which they lay, placidly chewing their cuds.

It’s a fine thing, it seems to me, to have helped nourish a deer, that it might survive the deep and pitiless cold of January.


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Continuing the temperature theme, July fell just a smidgen of kilocalories short of setting a record for the coldest average low.

The July record, set in 1993, is 42.9 degrees.

This July was on pace to best that mark until a heat wave barged in at month’s end.

That trend — the lows on the latter two days were 48 and 52 — pushed the final average low to 43.5 degrees.

This deprived the month not only of the minor consolation of runner-up status in a record book that dates to 1943, but relegated this July to the ignominy of the bronze.

Which shouldn’t bother me. Except it does.


Jayson Jacoby is editor of the Baker City Herald.