Agriculture: Paradise Lost

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This will be a brief bulletin, as befits the life of its subject , the young doe who died next to the driveway yesterday.

Death happens on the farm with some regularity, whether planned or not, and I am therefore somewhat inured to it. It is useful to be reminded, through the presence of others, that shrugging and going on is not the universal reaction.

To be sure, this doe’s death was unusual enough in its circumstances — one might call it a pedestrian accident — that I was likely to take special note. My friend Eric, who has been visiting for the last week, took a break from his remote work just before lunch Friday to commune with his dog, Lillie, and take a little stroll. He went along the driveway to see the spectacular display of Sir Thomas Lipton white roses that haven’t bloomed this profusely since we moved them from our Sag Harbor garden twenty one years ago (pictured above).

Just as Eric rounded the curve where the roses are showing themselves off, he saw in the middle of the oval lawn that is framed by the driveway a young doe, grazing. And she saw him. What had been a peaceful moment in a previously ungrazed virgin perennial border apparently turned to terror for her. She began to run in the direction from which she had entered. Upon realizing that she was running directly toward Eric, she did an about face and ran in the other direction, toward the field on the other side of the deer fence.

Unfortunately, the fence, at an 8 foot height designed to keep deer out, is also effective at keeping them in. She ran into the fence, and it deflected her. She made a second, more forceful attempt, bounced back, and collapsed on the ground.

Eric came in to get me, and together we tried to determine whether she was alive (our conclusion: barely breathing). We thought she was perhaps in shock, and that if we gave her space and time she might recover and walk out of the nearby driveway gate, which I opened for that purpose. We tried to give her some water, to which she did not respond. We brought Lillie inside the house, to ensure that her canine hunting instincts were not practiced on the doe. And we did a little research.

An on line list of large animal wildlife rehabilitators turned up nobody nearby. I called the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation region 4 wildlife phone line. The person answering the phone said she had heard many deer injury stories in the year plus she had been working that job, but this one was a new one. She connected me to the State Biologist for this region.

The biologist told me that while the circumstances of the accident were indeed unusual, deer deaths, like those of turkeys and, in her opinion, sheep, could be triggered by events that to humans seem quite minor. (I told her I knew what she meant about turkeys, who when we raised them seemed to come up with innumerable creative ways to die, but that my Karakul sheep were incredibly hardy and I would not put them in the same category.) In any event, she suggested that the doe could either have broken her neck hitting the fence or suffered from heart failure brought on by the stress of the situation. Either way, the prognosis did not seem good.

I asked her what to do with the carcass if the doe died. Should I bury it? She said I could, but strongly suggested that if I had woods nearby I should take the carcass out there, far from the house, and leave it as source of food for eagles and other wildlife desperately searching for food for their young this season. She clearly sees the role of wildlife as part of an ecosystem, rather than by their place in human sensibilities.

A couple of hours later it was clear that the doe had in fact died, and Eric and I lifted her into a wheelbarrow and trundled her out to the edge of the woods along the back pasture about half way between my house and the nearest neighbor. I think it is fair to say that Eric was traumatized. As we took her out to the woods he kept muttering “poor soul.” He blamed himself for causing her death by his innocent lunch hour stroll. In fact, the blame was far more mine, for having left a gate open to the chicken run due east of driveway. I had wanted the sheep to graze it down before I start raising chickens there, and forgot to close it back up, allowing the doe to enter from the pasture.

It pains me to admit that it took Eric’s reaction to jolt me back to a feeling of remorse and to think about what death meant for this creature. As he spoke of her soul, it occurred to me to consider her psyche. I wondered whether in breaching the fortifications surrounding the garden here, she felt she had entered a kind of paradise, with delicacies like hostas, roses, lobelias and peonies free for her delectation, and whether while blissing out on that feast the sudden encounter with Eric and Lillie caused her to think “Oh F*, what have I gotten myself into?” I wondered whether one might view the speed of her death, confronted with sudden doom, as a sort of mercy.

A bit over a year ago, we were all sent into a kind of shock when the certainties of our lives were shattered by the force of a global pandemic. Most of us adjusted to the shock, far better than the deer. Maybe we as humans need constant reminders of how forces beyond our control shape our lives — and sometimes take them.

WHAT’S AVAILABLE THIS WEEK

Rhubarb $4 a lb.

Mint $1 a bunch

Dill, $1 a bunch

Chervil $1.50 a bunch

Sorrel, $3 a bag

Spinach $4 a bag (limited quantities)

Purple Asparagus $4/lb, limited quantity

Garlic chives, $1/bunch (flat leafed)

EGGS: production has doubled, feel free to order, $5/doz

FRESH HORSERADISH, $3/lb

CHICKENS: They were quite uniform in size, all just around 6 lbs, a few under. These freedom rangers have been what you want them to be, deeply flavorful. $6/lb, frozen. Separately, bags of chicken livers, also $6/lb.

FARM PICKUPS:

Email us your order at farm@turkanafarms.com, and let us know when you’d like to pick up your order. It will be put out for you on the side screened porch of the farmhouse (110 Lasher Ave., Germantown) in a bag. You can leave cash or a check in the now famous pineapple on the porch table. Because I’m now here full time, we’re abandoning regular pick-up times. Let us know when you want your order any day between 10 and 5, and unless there are unusual circumstances we’ll be able to ready it to your convenience. If you have questions, don’t hesitate to call or text at 917-544-6464 or email.



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