Atop Hawk Mountain, Pa., 2010

Atop Hawk Mountain, Pa., 2010
Photo by R.E. Berg-Andersson

Saturday, June 8, 2013

The Fawn on the Lawn

At the end of May 1999, not long after we saw the Mets’ slugger Mo Vaughn hit a prodigious home run at Shea Stadium, I came out of my house to take a walk and found a newborn fawn curled up at the end of my front lawn. There was nothing between it and the street but the curb stones.

I thought it was dead. I prodded it with my foot and it stirred. I went back into the house to tell my husband.

I was between jobs at that point, so I was at home and had the time to focus on this unexpected delivery. Throughout the day I watched adults, kids and dogs walk by. No one noticed the fawn. However, its mother must’ve noticed because the next day the fawn had been moved to the long grass in our backyard near the flood wall, an area so secluded I almost missed it, too. The lawn had not been mowed in some time because our mower was being repaired.

We christened our visitor Mo Fawn.

I mention all this because for the first time since then I was puttering around the backyard the other morning and found another sleeping newborn fawn under our apple tree. Once again my reaction was to make sure it was alive. Unlike last time, I got my camera and took a picture of this cute, little baby.

Mo Fawn II, June 2013

It had been placed well. Once again, the grass was longer than it should’ve been (the mower we use now was not at fault; MH had wanted the grass long during a heatwave and had not gotten around to mowing once the wave ended) and the tree shaded Mo Fawn II as it slept.

I had learned from my brother-in-law the naturalist the last time that newborn fawns have no scent, which explains why dogs ignored it. However, people could still see it. This second time I was concerned kids from next door or cutting through the yard to retrieve an errant ball would touch it. If that happened its mother would abandon it.

MH mowed the lawn but left Mo within a wide swath of long grass.

I was sure its mother would take it away once it saw the grass had been cut. I was wrong.

The last time, after Mo had been there a couple of days, a doe and another fawn had come into our yard. I thought it was Mo’s mother. She left with her fawn. Mo, left behind, started the most piteous bleating, which tore at my heart and had me searching through my tears for an animal control number since I was sure it had been abandoned.

Just in time, MH called me to the back porch. There was the biggest doe I’ve ever seen feeding Mo. I almost fainted from relief. Once he was fed she led him away, as nature intended.

However, when it comes to deer, this is not a given. This is the New Jersey suburbs, where the leading cause of deer death is not human hunting or animal predators but collisions with cars. Every year there are many young animals that lose their mothers in accidents. There is a reason why hunting season is in November and not May into June when does give birth.

So I had an uneasy feeling when I awoke to find Mo II still with us. Had Mom been hit by a car? Did someone decide to go into the woods with a bow and arrow and poach a deer? Did someone come into my yard, bother the fawn and leave a scent, thus assuring abandonment?

Hope for the best, MH said, as he usually does. Wait another day before calling someone.

As it happened, Mo II was gone by day’s end. I work at home now, and when I came downstairs on a break I looked out the kitchen window at a large doe cleaning the fawn. It is the only time I’ll ever be happy to see a deer in my backyard.

She heard me come out on the porch and jumped over the low flood wall. She stayed in the bushes close by. I went back into the house and watched from the kitchen.

Soon she came out of the bushes and walked along the flood wall. Mo followed her from the other side. When she got him to an area where it wasn’t as high, he tried to jump the wall and couldn’t. He got very agitated and tried again. This time he made it. Mom turned and carefully led Mo to the next street and then across, up through the yards and into one last bit of woods not cut down for a street or housing development in my town.

The fawn on the lawn was gone, for now. I’ve no doubt once Mo is weaned he will be eating shrubbery and then he won’t be such a cute little thing to me.

A few things to remember from this episode. The more houses we build, the more we shrink the available woods that are home to deer, birds and other wild creatures, and the greater the chance these wild creatures come into contact with us. There are people who passionately want to ban all deer hunts, even tho’ the deer population has increased since our first encounter with Mo Fawn because we‘ve created such wonderful conditions for them.

The usual way I see deer in the backyard.
I'm not going to comment on hunting but I will say
I’ve learned over the course of two decades that if a deer is in the yard, see which way it is headed and then get behind it to encourage it off the property. If you make the deer run the way it came you have wasted your time because once you go inside it will only come back and head where it planned to go anyway.

I have learned why many of my neighbors don’t grow flowers or certain other plants -- there are no “deer-resistant” plants. Strong scents may deter them but I’ve found a hungry deer will nibble just about anything, which could kill your plant if enough of them try it..

I’ve also learned deer netting, ugly and cumbersome as it is, is the only real deterrent. But even here if a deer finds a weakness, something not fastened tight enough or too tight, it will strike. I’ve come outside to find netting slit down the middle because it had been strung too tight, and the plants behind eaten within an inch of their lives. One of those doing the eating might’ve been the original Mo Fawn. I’ve learned and adjusted.

All animals have it tough in this human world. MH and I did our small part. I don’t begrudge Mo II his life, even tho’ I will be sure to chase him, his mother and any other deer off my property the next time.

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