1993

GARDENING
DANCING WITH DEER
by Scott McGuire

Last year I attempted to farm two acres of organic vegetables in cooperation with nature. I was as prepared as I thought I could be: water system, greenhouse, seeds, tiller and tools. Plus I'd farmed enough in other places to know the kinds of questions to ask nature. Last season I grew only green manure crops and tested for the right amounts of mineral amendments and compost, all turned under at the best timing.

Aside from the usual challenges of farming, I knew there would be some balancing work to be done with the local deer population. In these arid hills of southern Oregon, irrigation is required from May through October. Consequently, forage for wildlife becomes sparse and dry. The parched hills can't compete with a lush garden for choice meals.

Most people around here battle the deer with the usual assortment of tricks: Ivory soap, tiger urine, egg and water solution, dirty socks, and even more repulsive wads of hair from the barber shop. Eventually they invest in a ten foot tall deer fence after witnessing deer master the over-the-back high jump technique on the seven and eight foot fences in the summer wildlife Olympics!

But I was convinced I could work out a deal with the deer. I would keep certain areas green with their favorites alfalfa and crimson clover and ask them to leave other areas alone. Besides, we couldn't afford a deer fence. Also, I wanted to demonstrate a willingness to have full cooperation without any barriers.

I had no reason to expect that it wouldn't work. Of course, my neighbors might think I was crazy, but I'd abandoned a "normal" point of view long ago. And I did have success with moles in the garden. One morning I found their little mounds of dirt everywhere, and I asked them to please stay out of the garden beds. I was sure I could hear them laughing hysterically the next morning when I discovered their piles lined up in the pathways between the beds. ("Well, we did stay out of the beds Har Har!!")

After that, I learned to be more specific with my request, and the moles moved on to greener pastures.

But the deer had other ideas. I went through all the appropriate energy processes, and communicated with them as often as I could. I pointed out what I'd grown for them to eat, and asked them to please not eat the human food crops. I also tuned in to the Deer Deva to learn more about where they were coming from. Nothing seemed to work. First they ate all the strawberries, peppers and tomatoes. Then they ate the hearts out of all the summer squash, and the tops off the beets and beans. I became so discouraged, I didn't want to walk out into the fields to discover what new damage had been done. All the joy had gone out of trying, and I felt like a complete failure.

I finally had to release the expectation that I could make a living from the farm this season. At this point, I'd be fortunate to meet expenses. Throughout the last few months I've tried everything to maintain a co-creative approach with the deer, and resist the urge to hurl a rock at them when they look up at me with carrot tops dripping from their mouths.

Just lately, I've become aware of some of the deeper lessons of this season. These all have to do with my own growth process of releasing fears. But that's another chapter. At first I thought it would be simple enough to apply the insect balancing processes to wildlife. But insects in comparison to deer are relatively fluid. Both have experienced war from humans. But insects can adapt to the harshest chemicals in a generation or two, often in one season. To heal the relationship between humans and deer will require something more.

Like the insect dispersal pattern that often needs correcting, the deer have certain aspects of their devic pattern that have been altered by their interactions with us. An average deer lifetime, hunting notwithstanding, is quite a bit longer than any insect, so it may take longer to work out a stable harmony with them.

I had to let go of the notion that I could correct the gravely imbalanced relationship between deer and humans in one season. But I'm going to do what I can to continue welcoming their presence in order to eventually work it out. The first step this winter will be to build a deer fence around one portion of the field. Then I'll know that one area will be able to arrive at fruition, because the biggest imbalancer will be excluded, enabling the possibility of a finer-tuned balance. As any carpenter knows, the rough board must be planed before sanding to a fine finish.

When is a barrier not a barrier? Today, when I see the deer in the fields, I can't help but cringe, "What have they eaten now?" If I knew one area was safe from them, then I could relax, truly welcome them and work with them in other areas. John Bradshaw, pioneer psychologist in the field of family relationships, might say this would be creating a healthy boundary. There's nothing more dysfunctional today than the relationship humans have with the family of nature.