Roses for Dinner
Should we make war-or peace-with a raiding deer?
One spring I was hired as groundskeeper at the Willcox House Country Inn, a famous bed and breakfast located in northwest Washington State. The mansion, built by Colonel Willcox during the Depression, is in a beautiful isolated setting with a panoramic view of Hood Canal and the snow-capped Olympic Mountains. Many famous people have visited, including Clark Gable, who had his own room there.
The current owners, Philip and Cecelia Hughes, have done a beautiful job bringing the house back to its original condition. Guests are magically set back in time to the 1930s. However, since most of their efforts had been put into restoring the house, the gardens were very overgrown. Worse yet, there was another problem: a very persistent doe (female deer).
Every day when I came to work, there was new evidence of the deer's ravenous appetite. This had been going on for years, and the innkeepers were at a loss for what to do. I, however, was fresh and ready for the challenge and determined to solve the problem.
I tried some of the standard animal deterrents: a mist of ammonia on her favorite plant choices, human hair, soap, etc., but none of those things had much effect. We thought of motion detectors that would trigger bright lights or loud noises, but that would disturb the guests as well as the doe. I tried everything I could think of to keep deer away, but this doe liked it there and continued to stay.
Often when I was weeding, I'd look over and there she would be, munching some tasty tidbit. I growled at her and ran her off, but she didn't go far before she returned and ate some more garden plants. She knew I wasn't a threat to her wellbeing, just to her breakfast.
Worst of all, she feasted on the roses, in which Cecelia took great pride. Cecelia became very distressed when they were eaten. We put an electric wire around the rose garden, but the hungry deer was not diverted. We were proving to be no match for this animal. I felt so frustrated that I named her “Dinner” and wanted to serve her on one of Cecelia's silver platters.
The driveway at Willcox House has an island, an overgrown deciduous azalea bed with roses, along the front edge. One morning I was on my hands and knees pulling out blackberry vines and salmonberry bushes when I caught a movement out of the corner of my eye. I looked and there was Dinner, not five feet away, munching a large leaf and staring at me. By the way she looked down her nose, I got the feeling she thought I was a nuisance and she was the superior being.
I stayed kneeling while we scrutinized each other. As I looked into those big soft brown eyes, my frustration melted, and I was filled with a deep serenity. I then felt a connection with this animal. We did have something in common--we were both mothers. I decided to communicate with this creature through mental telepathy. It seemed she wanted the same thing, because we were staring deeply into each other's eyes.
“What's up?” I asked her, in my head.
“I want to live in peace,” was the gentle reply I felt I heard. “I'm here because I feel safe, I have my fawns bedded down nearby, and there is plenty to eat. When my twin fawns are older, I will move them deeper into the forest, and we won't be here anymore.”
“I understand that,” I assured her. “People come here, too, from far away, because it is a safe and enchanting place. I promise you that nobody will harm you or your fawns. I don't mind sharing the vegetation, but Cecelia, the lady who lives here, loves roses, too. She is very upset when they are all eaten.”
A loud clatter interrupted the communication. Startled, we both jumped. Our eyes met again for a brief moment before she bounced off across the driveway, disappearing into the forest.
My body tingled as I watched her go. Had I really communicated with this wild animal--or was it just my imagination? In either case, reframing resulted.
I went into the kitchen where Cecelia was preparing the evening meal. “I just had a meeting of the minds with Dinner in the driveway,” I told her.
Maybe we have been looking at this problem the wrong way.”
“What do you mean?” Cecelia curiously asked.
“The guests can see roses anywhere. But having wildlife roam around the grounds is something people don't experience very often. It might really add to the charm of the place. Why not include Dinner in the décor? The guests will never notice that flowers are missing.”
Cecelia thought about it--and she liked the idea. So that's what we did. When guests arrived, they were told that wildlife sometimes wandered around the grounds and that although the deer looked tame, they were definitely undomesticated and unpredictable-animals.
For the next few months, Dinner brought her white-spotted twins into the yard. While she grazed, the siblings ran and frolicked around the lawn, just like small children. She knew she was safe and welcome. Occasionally, one of the fawns would fall into the swimming pool or fishpond and have to be rescued by staff, while Dinner pawed the ground and scolded her careless fawn. Once the crisis was over, she licked her wet offspring dry and cuddled it, like any mother. She even seemed to pose so that guests could take pictures. I am sure they'll talk about their experience at the Willcox House for years to come.
I enjoyed watching Dinner with the twins. My presence never bothered her, and the fawns were very curious. They would stare at me through the bushes and jump around like they had pogo sticks on their little legs. Dinner's parenting skills were excellent. I was touched by the gentleness and affection she showed her charges.
As summer wound down, Dinner and her offspring visited less and less. Eventually they didn't come at all, just like she had said. I would occasionally see them on the long driveway in the early morning, but she was taking them farther into the forest. Eventually they left for good. So maybe there is a way to live in harmony with these peaceful creatures. Consider who was there first. The animals are just doing what naturally comes to them. If you move your home or business into the forest, have some respect and appreciation for the natural inhabitants--after all, you destroyed their yard. The Golden Rule applies to animals, too. We should think about what we've done to them, not just what they've done to us.
And, yes, I know that I communicated with Dinner that day in the garden. After that day, she ate only half the roses.
story used by permission Copyright 2001