My current route takes me part way around a lake and then into the back door of our state’s botanical gardens, so within half an hour I am strolling down a quiet woods road fragrant with the spice of pine and warming loam and honeysuckle. Unfortunately, the deer flies like it there too, so it is a mixed blessing as I stride through the shadows with waving arms, batting at my own head and combing the damned things out of my hair with my fingers.
The flies were almost forgotten when a deer sauntered out in front of me. I thought she was going to come over and ask me for directions. It was either too hot already for her to care, or more likely, she had become so accustomed to humans flailing their way down the road that she hardly noticed them any more. She meandered to the other field when her fawn bounced out and ran after her, which left one more deer near the woods line where she had come from. It was busy stripping a bush, reaching its graceful muzzle into the mass of green and yanking it down. I knew I was witnessing what has been called an irreversible assault on the forests of the northeast. The number of white-tailed deer, once almost zero in New Jersey, have not only rebounded, but have exploded out of control. Even hunting has not put a dent in their numbers. And sadly, the understory of many forest tracts have been grazed out, destroying nest sites for many bird species (whose numbers have predictably declined) and creating perfect habitat for opportunistic non-nutritious, invasive plants such as barberry, garlic mustard and Japanese knotweed.
I am torn between seeing the graceful and innocent beauty of a deer and the grief of the loss of our forests, which is the greater concern. I have no solution to offer, though humane options always get my vote!