Eat More Squirrels

Twin fawns frequent the ravine behind our house. They love the mulberry-strewn yard across the street and the sunny back yard next door, one of the few level spots in our neighborhood’s hills. The other night, they nursed beneath our living room window. Two at once, they faced the woods, white tails twitching like a hand pump bringing water from a well. Their mother, her coat a luscious butterscotch, watched her watchers, even though we were a story higher and behind glass and no threat. I attempted to video them, but the result was jerky and out of focus. The back of our dog’s head popped in and out of the frame like a prairie dog.

“What are you watching?” his cartoon self would say. “A bird? Where’s the bird?” He’s only interested in birds.

Later that night, in the floodlights off their deck, my neighbors watched as a coyote attacked and killed a fawn. Watched is not the right word. They tried to scare away the coyote, but it was determined. The fawn became food. I was not a witness, but the scene haunted me nonetheless. Did the mother push the other fawn to safety? Save the one she could? Or did she fight? Stomp her hoof into the ground and snort that hissing sound deer make when confronted? Scares me. Not the coyote.

It’s nature, and I know that. Each doing what she can to survive, feed the pups, the kits, the babes. How do I know the coyote’s pups weren’t crying in a den close by, waiting for a meal?
We see a lot of nature in this wooded suburb, and not all of it is pretty. Loud bluejays steal eggs. Hawks snack in the trees, squirrels hanging from their talons. A pile of hawk feathers appears in my daffodils. A fox rips apart a squirrel in the snow as I look out my office window. An escaped pet canary swoops through the neighborhood, more canny than expected for one raised in a cage. And the raccoon family living in the tall hollow tree crawls onto my deck at night to drain my hummingbird feeder if I forget to take it inside. Ok, so that’s not natural, just annoying.

The deer are different, though. I know many by sight or personality. A scar on a shoulder, a dark clown nose, a particularly frisky young buck who runs in circles like a hyperactive child. Still it’s a wary deer/human relationship. When my husband walks the dog on a leash mornings and evenings, the deer look up from feeding, but don’t run. The fawns are curious, step forward a few inches, a foot, a yard, until mom stamps her hoof and they retreat.

As a journalist I once covered a hunt in a state park. The deer population was burgeoning, and the hunters were brought in to weed out the herd. Protesters, carrying signs equating this hunt to the holocaust, stood outside, cursing and accusing the hunters of cruelty. The hunters I interviewed weren’t there for sport. They saw no sport in killing an animal so tame and emaciated. Overpopulation had decimated the midlevel vegetation that they, and other species, needed to survive. Biologists from the DNR weighed and cataloged the carcasses. Seriously underweight, low on the height scale, a population in trouble. Natural predators had been removed. The deer thrived beyond the land’s capacity to sustain them.

Here, where a mix of houses, farmland, and woods straddle the Fox River, the deer find plenty to eat for now. And there are predators. Unnatural ones like cars and trucks, and the four-legged ones who howl in the night.
This week I saw the twins again, sunning in my neighbor’s yard. When their mother approached they ran straight to her and began to nurse. I was relieved they were still alive. Then yesterday a third fawn joined them, and I wondered about its mother. Car? Coyote?

No one appointed me judge of which animals should live, but I do have a preference. I choose to eat salmon and not dog, chicken not horse. And if I could choose the animals to save, I’d harbor fawns not our seemingly endless supply of squirrels.

The Chick-fil-a restaurant franchise has for years now run a clever advertising campaign where cows, often 3-D sculptures of black and white bovines, perch on roadway signage with poorly rendered lettering that reads “EAT MOR CHIKN.” Would that the fawns’ now-fading spots could spell out “EAT MORE SQUIRRELS.”