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The way the food chain works

November 3, 2011
Maggie Wolff Peterson - Community Columnist (maggiewpeterson@comcast.net) , Shepherdstown Chronicle

The largest doe in my neighborhood recently learned that she can jump my fence to get to my landscaping. There's a perfectly accommodating, 100-acre woods directly behind my house, with plenty of cover for deer. I'm content to have them live on their side of the fence, while I live on mine.

From time to time I see members of the herd while they browse at the edge of the woods, and I appreciate them for the beauties that they are: their deep eyes, expressive ears and delicate legs that resolve into nearly impossibly small hooves - all the better to pick silently through the underbrush and become hidden only inches from the edge of the wild land.

If only this doe would stay on her side of the fence! The smaller does, probably her daughters, can't get into my yard, but the big doe is a substantial girl with a strong spring, and my mums are in juicy bud. I looked out back the other afternoon to see the big doe munching nonchalantly on whatever caught her fancy.

This would not do. I jumped into shoes and rushed out back, clapping my hands.

"Hey girl," I shouted. "Shoo!"

I waved a kitchen towel at her to intensify my one-woman ruckus.

She turned her long neck and looked at me full on, as if to consider my request and reply. She wasn't startled by me in the least. Calmly, she returned to her browse.

"Get outta here," I yelled, waving the towel. "Out!"

She took a couple of steps on those tiny, elegant hooves. She flicked her ears. She resumed eating.

Eventually, she decided she was done with me. I can't say I persuaded her to jump the fence, but in time she made her way to it, cleared it from a standing start, and nearly instantly disappeared into the woods.

My friends counseled me to splash all manner of repellants at the fenceline to keep her away. I told them I'd pee there myself if it kept Missy Doe to her side of the territory.

She came back the next day. We resumed our relationship - me clapping and shouting and her calmly gazing and grazing. Once again, she decided that my noise wasn't the dinner music she preferred, so she jumped the fence and was gone.

The weird, high-pitched sounds I heard later that night took a minute to identify. When I muted my television, I realized I wasn't hearing a cell phone ringtone or the call of a smoke alarm. The screaming howls, punctuated by barking yips, came from one of the coyotes that also make our woods their home. The vocalizations went on for several minutes, stopped and then resumed for another stretch of time. This wild canine had something big to talk about.

I haven't seen Missy Doe since that night. Perhaps Mr. Coyote bagged himself enough dinner to last for several days and held a one-critter party, supplying a celebratory soundtrack with his own singing. Maybe that is what I heard a few nights ago.

If so, then more power to him. The doe was a big girl, and it would have been easier for him to go for smaller prey. If he did get the big doe, that solves my back-yard problem. In any case, coyotes kill deer and that's just the food chain at work.

Meanwhile, the other day I cleared my freezer of some of the mystery lumps at the back that were reaching their expiration and had to be cooked. Among them was a small meat-boulder, that I set in a bowl in the fridge to thaw. It was a roast, supplied by my friend the hunter, from a doe he shot last fall.

The flesh bled deep maroon when I butchered the piece, preparing it to become uniform chunks in a pot of venison chili. A little red-wine vinegar helped break down the muscle, and good spices gave it heat and depth. It cooked for hours, all afternoon, until the meat was tender enough to break apart with a fork.

A respectful carnivore sometimes gets blood on her hands. Slaughter is the price of admission to a meal made with animal protein. The doe is eventually prey. Any time we eat meat, a creature perished for it.

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- Maggie Wolff Peterson is a community columnist for The Shepherdstown Chronicle. Her opinions are her own and not that of the paper's. She can be reached at maggiewpeterson@comcast.net.

 
 

 

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