The Urge to Cull

Yesterday I was browsing around the displays at a local garden centre, admiring the clever combinations of new varieties in autumnal colours and wondering if I would find something absolutely necessary for my admittedly overcrowded beds. I happened to overhear a conversation among three prosperous looking middle-aged women. One was holding forth vehemently about the injustice of being a gardener in a place where urban deer were not being “culled.” It was simply outrageous, she said, to expect gardeners to erect fences and other barriers to keep the pests out. Something Must be Done. I knew that if I stayed within range, there was a good chance that I would intrude into the conversation with what would be distinctly unpopular opinions, so I moved farther away, but as always seems to be the case when you’re hearing something you don’t want to, it was almost impossible not to. (Besides, people used to expressing strong opinions often have carrying voices). So I left.

A post about urban deer has been inevitable since they became more populous in this area a year or so ago. I had my first visit by a buck last March, as I reported in earlier posts. He ate quite a number of plants here, but certainly did not destroy the garden. I find that the plants whose loss I’ve regretted the most in the past couple of months are the hostas, especially a large green and white one whose presence was the finishing touch in the area near my pond. Right now I’m missing their gradual colour change to the rich, tarnished gold that is the very essence of the turning year.

But I find it difficult to understand these women’s continuing anger at these creatures. Why can’t they be grateful that they have gardens at all, in this very fortunate part of the world? It’s not as though they are farmers whose livelihood is threatened by marauding deer. And why is the preferred solution one that requires the destruction of nonhuman life forms? Do these people really want men with clover traps and bolt guns roaming around the neighbourhood? Why are human beings so eager to kill things?

Okay, so at this point I make myself remember my own rantings about raccoons, whom I find more annoying and destructive than deer. Instead of nipping at foliage, they dig deep holes, sometimes uprooting plants that dry out and die before I am aware of their plight. How many times have I had to fish around in my pond for rocks from its edge that these critters have dumped in while looking for worms or bugs? How many times have I referred to raccoons in terms that I hesitate to use in print? I don’t deny any of this, but have I ever wished them dead? Have I ever so much as contemplated calling a “pest” control service? Never, because I actually think that the wild creatures that inhabit the garden and the region in which the garden is located are a necessary part of the place, and that I as a gardener must accept them, like the weather, weeds, slugs, droughts and windstorms.

In other words, ladies, suck it up. Use your superior Homo sapiens brains to think of ways to outwit the deer. Get rid of plants that are deer magnets, or be prepared to net or fence. At the very least, step out of your smug, entitled rut and try to see the world you live in from a different angle.

Here is a quotation from Henry Beston, writer and gardener, that seems an apt ending for this post:

“We need another and a wiser and perhaps a more mystical concept of animals. Remote from universal nature, and living by complicated artifice, man in civilization surveys the creature through the glass of his knowledge and sees thereby a feather magnified and the whole image in distortion. We patronize them for their incompleteness, for their tragic fate of having taken form so far below ourselves. And therein we err, and greatly err. For the animal shall not be measured by man. In a world older and more complete than ours they move finished and complete, gifted with extensions of the senses we have lost or never attained, living by voices we shall never hear. They are not brethren, they are not underlings; they are other nations, caught with ourselves in the net of life and time, fellow prisoners of the splendour and travail of the earth.”