The trouble with Daphne

June 21, 2009

Daphne came into our lives when she was abandoned the day her mother gave birth to a new fawn behind the barn.  The yearling white-tail was left to wander, and she seems to have fixed upon the walnut field next to the woods as her new home.

This has done no good for the seedlings.  For a hundred-foot radius from Daphne’s bed, the taller seedlings have been trimmed back to the bark and the shorter  walnuts have had their tops nipped off.  For some reason Daphne prefers her meals served in the open, and from knee to shoulder height.  The earlier leaves from a hundred young butternut trees kept her happy until the walnuts came on, but now she won’t be separated from her favourite food for long.

Take this morning, for example.  In a rage yesterday I had chased her clean out of the field.  I drove back this morning to see if this moment of uncharacteristic energy on my part had had any effect.  No.  Daphne greeted me with wide eyes and perked ears, but she didn’t stop munching on a tender walnut seedling until I drove up close to her.  Then she moved away.  I expected her to pick up my scent, flip the tail, snort and run away, hopefully to the other side of someone else’s woods.  But no.  She walked away about a hundred feet, then turned and started to work her way back toward me, bobbing her head from side to side and doing that alert-stupid thing deer are so good at.

O.k.  It’s the running engine.  I turned off the key, fully expecting this to produce panic and flight.   Nope.  On she came.  About forty feet from the Ranger she suddenly took flight – until she thought better of it after a couple of leaps.  Then she threw up her tail and dashed in a semi-circle around me and towards the woods.  But she turned and came back to take up station on the other side of me. Obviously my vehicle and I were occupying the very spot on this earth where she most wanted to be, and would we please leave?

She made a couple of more attempts to crowd me out of her territory, jumping, stamping her feet, and letting out these little snorts before setting off on another hell-for-leather rush to the other side of the Ranger where she started up her inquiring looks again. With seven hundred  walnut trees in this field, why does she particularly want to eat this one?  And it’s almost all gone.

Eventually she gave up her attempt to frighten me off and stepped over the fence and behind a large tree to await my departure.

Daphne’s rapidly growing into a beautiful animal.  Her tail’s still not fully-fluffed, but she’s the lovely tan colour of a fully-grown deer in summer coat now.  We’d actually love to have her around if it weren’t for the way she Hoovers my walnuts.  I have spent three summers planting, mowing, watering and coddling these little trees, and she mows through them at an incredible rate.

Even camping in the field won’t work if she keeps coming back to her spot to put me out.  I remember two summers ago a young coyote had his bed in another field near the woods.  I nearly ran over him with a riding lawn mower one morning while on my way to trim around a line of spruces.  Young fellow was a very sound sleeper.  The coyote pup, as well, deeply resented my intrusion into his territory, and when I later mowed the field, he spent the day circling to try and find a safe way back to his bed, his favourite bones, and a rubber chew toy.

But he was a coyote, and defined by society as a destructive varmint, even though he caught and ate mice everywhere he went and did his best to keep the squirrels and chipmunks honest.  No fate is too terrible for the local coyote.  Poison, traps, grayhounds, even running down with vehicles – all are acceptable.  Daphne, on the other hand, is protected by law as a natural resource, even though she is cutely chewing her way through my livelihood.  Now which one is the varmint?

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