AP NEWS

Elder Statesman: This gift may save a garden, my sanity

April 15, 2019

EDITOR’S NOTE: The columns of Bill Duncan are being reprinted in The News-Review. Duncan, who died in November 2011, wrote a weekly column for The News-Review and The Capital Press of Salem from 1981 to 2011. Duncan wrote the following column in April 1997. His thoughts are still pertinent to today.

Thursday was my birthday, but my oldest daughter, who always has a birthday party for me at some time during April, has informed me she’ll not be hosting the event this year.

It has nothing to do with my age or a shortage of birthday candles.

It is because she and her siblings decided to build me an impenetrable deer fence to surround my garden. I’d have to reckon this decision came because I announced I was not going to plant a garden this year, followed by a comment that animal activists would probably petition for my arrest for starving deer.

My daughter couldn’t believe an old Marine was surrendering to a few white-tail deer. Maybe she should come down from Eugene and count them devouring my garden. I have counted as many as 15 at one time.

Actually the announcement came after reading an article called “The Deer in Springtime” that appeared in Victoria magazine. The article was written by Diane Ackerman, Victoria’s “Writer in Residence.”

Diane probably doesn’t know this, but the reason I renew my subscription to Victoria is to read her “Writer in Residence” piece. The general contents of Victoria magazine hold little interest for a rugged male.

I actually subscribed to the magazine for my wife, but she didn’t like it because the pages are heavily scented with perfume. I started flipping through the magazines which lay unread in the living room, and I got hooked on reading the “Writer in Residence” column.

Ackerman seemed to have so much practical sense.

Then came this April’s issue. “I love watching the deer, which always arrive like magic or miracle or the answer to an unasked question,” Ackerman wrote. “Can there be a benediction of deer on a chilly spring morning? I think so. Their otherworldliness stops the day in its tracks, focuses it on the hypnotic beauty of nature, and then starts the day again with a rush of wonder.”

Right after I read this, I went out to pick up the mail from my rural mailbox. I had to pass a planted area where just the day before I had seen tulips in full bloom. This day, each bloom had been plucked and eaten. Like magic, the deer had appeared during the night and feasted on my tulips.

I’m sorry Diane, this was no benediction. I might have used words you might find in a prayer, but they were not said in that vein.

By the time I returned to the house, I had already made up my mind. No garden this year. All the hard work that goes into tilling the soil, planting the vegetables, fertilizing, watering and hoeing the weeds can be wiped out in one night’s raid of Ackerman’s “emissaries of the wild.”

Not long ago I went to visit a friend of mine, Irving C. Jordan, who lived at the time in Linus Oakes, an exclusive retirement center in the hills of Roseburg.

As I was leaving, I had to stop my car while a fawn nursed. The doe had stopped in the middle of the road for this nature’s whim.

I’ll admit I had cross thoughts. One was to watch this “benediction” of nature happening before me in a relative densely populated area. The other thought was that if my foot slipped off the brake, there’d be two less deer in my garden this summer.

I live just over the hill from Linus Oakes.

But I’ve been told that come summer my garden will be secure with a deer-proof fence — a combination birthday and Father’s Day present.