Four yearling deer stood still not ten feet from me in the first light of an October morning. With their light grey, furry, pointed ears, huge dark eyes and black noses, they appeared out of a cool mist and startled me. I had turned a corner on the rustic path that I walk most days — and there they were.
The deer were browsing some of the last green leaves of Summer and were mildly interested in me standing there so close by. They made no attempt to move away: they just stood there munching, looking at me. So, I excused myself…I really did –out loud! I felt like I had interrupted their breakfast.
I continued down the path thinking about the abundance of deer so present these days even in our cities and suburbs. These deer are gentrified, completely at peace with the walkers and talkers who move through their environment. They are not domesticated, just habituated to the humans who must seem so curious to them.
There are far more deer in America than when the pilgrims arrived. As the forests of the East and Midwest were leveled and agriculture took over as much of the land as was possible, more brush and what environmentalists call “edge” appeared. One example of edge is the strip of vegetation that farmers leave along creeks and rivers that pass through their land. That’s where many species of birds find food and cover. It’s where deer live, too. They don’t live in the forest.
Years ago, the world’s expert on moose, deer and elk was Margaret Altmann, a researcher whose home bordered the Bridger Wilderness Reserve near Yellowstone. I went with her once on horseback through forests and brush while she observed white-tailed deer through a monocular. Her riding horses were unshod and stealthily made their way without disturbing the natural behavior of wildlife.
I wonder what she would say about our citified deer. I know one thing: She would be curious to know how civilized deer differ in behavior from wilderness deer. Margaret Altman has been gone for many years now but I think, were she alive, that she would be amazed how these deer accept us within their territories.