Saturday, December 02, 2017

A Deer's Landscape Services


Funny. I didn't remember requesting landscape services. Deer hadn't shown up in our backyard since around 2005, when the birth control experiment was still underway and the females were looking elegant and very Princetonian with those identification cards hanging from their ears. Maybe it was taking refuge from hunters, or had had enough of rutting season.

Deer are expert landscapers, trained from birth in the art of pruning. They wouldn't think of driving around town in those giant fossil fuel-consuming trucks that deploy gangs of mowers to quash nature's vertical ambitions.



Deer are too considerate to make a racket with leaf blowers. And instead of releasing a cloud of fumes to sting your nose, they leave behind discrete contributions of fertilizer. They do the landscaping for free, but have a strong independent streak, refusing to adjust their methods to an owner's wishes.

Deer are very sensitive. Even though I stood ten feet back from my bay window, I still had to freeze several times so as not to spook my subject. It's impressive how they are so observant and "in the moment"--a state of mind we too might more easily attain if we were further down the food chain.


When I stepped outside to shoo it away, it didn't flee back over the fence but instead ducked behind some shrubbery in a back corner, waiting for my next move.


Once it realized I was not a threat, but instead just another among Princeton's backyard paparazzi, it regarded me with what appeared to be disdain.

No longer feared, I went back inside without finding out from where it came into the yard.


It was interesting, though, to watch it at work, browsing maybe ten leaves of our oak-leafed hydrangia before moving on to munch some grass. Though I've heard stories of deer wiping out a gardener's favorite plants overnight, my experience is that animals generally lack a thoroughness, whether it be browsers or predators.

My theory with deer is that their alertness to the potential for attack makes a patient devouring of one shrub less adaptive than a few nibbles here and there. And if much of what they eat has some level of toxicity, browsing can help reduce the risk of consuming too much of any particular toxin at any one time. Light browsing also promotes quick recover by the plants, as long as there aren't too many deer visiting the same plant. This suggests that deer could actually be good stewards, if their population was in balance with the landscape.

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