Magazine June 1, 2020, Issue

The Thrill of the Chase

(Mike Segar/Reuters)

A  couple years ago I fenced in a corner of my property upstate. The fence makes an irregular triangle, with blunted corners. One side runs behind the carport, the house, and the compost bins, to a point in the woods. The second side runs through the trees, parallel to the seasonal stream, which flows into the pond. The third side curves around the pond, crosses the driveway, and meets the first behind the carport. The enclosed area is about two acres. Half is lawn, half is wild. The upper portion of the wild half is meadow, with aspirations to become a thicket; the middle portion contains a small hill topped by pine trees; the lower portion is marsh. The fence is eight feet tall, made of welded wire with a rather large mesh; among the trees it fades from sight.

Before the fence went in, this corner of the property was open thoroughfare. In the first 15 or so years I saw one fisher, one possum, two black bears, and three rambling dogs — not exactly the cast of a nature show. But there was a flock of wild turkeys that regularly crossed the lawn, the meadow, and the stream. Five of them once woke us up, making a racket on our deck: four young males displaying, one female ignoring. And deer were regular visitors. They would run away from the pond at dusk, in a swift plunging gait, their white tails waving “So long”! One hard winter a famished one came almost to the front door; if I had had dried corn, I could have fed it by hand. In deer season Doug’s friend Mike dropped a buck on the lawn. They are graceful and swift, big-eyed and mild; no wonder, besides the pun “hart”/“heart,” they figure in Renaissance love poetry.

They also eat everything, and as the years passed they seemed to be eating more and more. The joke is, paint your house green and they will eat that too. They began eating things they were not supposed to like, and which we planted deliberately for that reason: leaves that are fuzzy (lambs’ ears), leaves that smell (herbs). The last straw was the autumn when the pumpkins were just about to be picked, and they smashed all the shells with their hooves.

So I got a recommendation for a fencer. He came and took a look, named a price, and we shook hands. He wrapped the fence around standing trees here and there, but he relied mostly on cedar posts. We agreed on four doors: a double-leaved gate for the driveway, and three small gates — beyond the compost; behind the little hill, past the footbridge over the stream; and behind the pond — to access the woods. None are locked; they only foil visitors without hands.

The ecology of this two-acre enclosure changed almost immediately. Although the bears could climb and the wild turkeys fly over the fence, they have not bothered. Ducks come to the pond in early spring, as they always have, but I have not seen a muskrat or a snapping turtle in a long time. On the plus side, we discovered wildflowers we did not know were there. The only hostas I had ever seen previously grew in a grim little Sephardic cemetery in the city; now I found there was a clump by my woodpile. In spring, violets appear seemingly everywhere.

Then a few weeks into the lockdown I saw at night a white tail flashing into the marshy area. I had been careless about the driveway gate; there were still scraps of April snow on the ground, so it did not seem as if the salad bar was open. I called Doug to consult. Looks like you have a pet, he said jauntily but not helpfully. If it’s a pregnant doe, that would be cool.

Two days passed. Then one morning at breakfast I saw her — a doe on the far side of the pond. I put on rubber boots and ran outside to do, I was not sure what.

A doe is obviously faster and more nimble than I am, even if I am not wearing rubber boots. But she is also timid, so I could, with luck, drive her in a direction of my choice. (I had unaccountably not brought my native beaters upstate.) So the chase would be one on one.

When I ran down to the pond, she bolted up the second side of the triangle; it is the most wooded, and the small hill provides the cover of an obstacle. I followed her on a parallel path, closer to the lawn. When I saw her again, she was on the far side of the stream, near the middle of the three small gates, which I went to open. Naturally she did not wait for me to show her out, but I planned, while chasing her, to offer as many exits as possible. Back she went towards the pond. One boot came off in the marsh; I got a soaker and stumbled around re-shoeing myself, then opened the pond gate. She ran around the back of the pond, keeping to the fence. I cut across the lawn and opened the driveway gate. She doubled back and vanished behind the small hill, with me in pursuit. I planned to push her around the perimeter once more, where the driveway gate would seem like heaven, but I glimpsed her, deep in the woods, running away, having exited by the first gate I opened.

I saw, in my after-action survey, that the wire on one leaf of the driveway gate was pushed out. At some point the poor creature must have tried to burst through. Well, you have no more worries now, except starvation and coyotes (doe licenses for hunters are rare). This summer my plants will flourish undisturbed. I made the rounds of all the gates and shut myself back in.

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Historian Richard Brookhiser is a senior editor of National Review and a senior fellow at the National Review Institute.

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