Slim Pickings

Yesterday Bear and I went for a long ramble out to see “our” deer. We didn’t see them, but we saw where they had been in various signs they’d left behind, like a story, across the page of snow.

The empty field beyond the golf course has been fallow for as long as I’ve lived here. I’ve chosen not to think about why (development?) but the stripes of the last hay cutting are still prominent. It’s a buffer zone between houses and the Big Empty. Beyond it are farms and open space, the railroad tracks and what many people my call “nothing.” Then there’s the river. Along the way to the river are little bends of backwaters, sloughs. Perfect deer land, filled with yummy shrubs, even wild currants. There is good cover, too.

The first time I saw the deer this past fall (when the grass was green, and the leaves were golden) they were grazing on the “volunteer” alfalfa growing this field.

The alfalfa is down to nubbins, brown and frozen to boot. Yesterday we saw many patches where the deer had moved the snow away to get at what remains.

I remembered some friends in California who had a little house in the Cuyamaca mountains outside Julian. They were trying to make a pretty garden on the hillside, but the deer kept eating their plants. I’d gone up there for dinner with my white husky/low-content wolf, Ariel Punky. When Ariel saw the deer, she howled. The deer ran. For fifteen minutes my friend practiced a convincing howl that he could use to drive the deer away. He knew his howl was good if Ariel joined in.

I came home yesterday from our ramble and looked up how to feed deer in winter. I learned a lot — mostly that it’s a bad idea. Deer can die if their food is changed too suddenly. It’s just as well. I don’t see me lumbering out there with enough food to do any good come March.

Deer tracks in the fallow hay field.

13 thoughts on “Slim Pickings

  1. I love the story of your friend mimicking Ariel’s howl to scare the deer away from his garden! The deer must find enough food in the late winter, though I can imagine that in some years they become pretty skinny! What a nice walk you had with Bear!

      • It’s great. As is summer sausage made from elk. I have had venison a few times, but until I had it here as cold roast venison with a kind of chile sauce to dip it in, I really hadn’t tasted it. It makes beef insipid. It was so good.

      • I’m with you. I think modern beef, especially the typical American “corn finished” beef, is just too mild. Gimme grass fed – or better yet, strong Australian lamb/mutton, boar, or, yes, venison. (I just recently tried elk sausage at a wine tasting and enjoyed it, although whomever made it added – I thought – too many sweet spices to compensate for the gaminess. Shame.)

      • Around here, fresh elk sausage is made with some red chiles included. I don’t eat beef. I did up until the epiphany. In fact, I barely eat meat. Lamb is good. The pork we had in China (which raised itself by wandering around on the streets, lanes, alleys and fields was great. The chicken was awful since the Chinese eat so much fish the chicken smelled like fish which made it disgusting to cook.

  2. A few pounds of alfalfa while the snow is deep might do more good than you imagine. Make the dogs carry it or even pull it on a sled.

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