Monday, July 19, 2010

Vantage Point

It was about eight o’clock when I sat down on the front steps, binoculars perched on my nose to study the herd of deer that had crept from the green at the far edge of the field to eat supper. There were about ten of them, including a yearling who, like all toddlers, couldn’t slow down enough to eat.

A large male had heard the front door open and close and had his gaze, steady like that of a sniper, trained in my direction, alert to the slightest movement that might portend danger for his family. In the magnification of the binoculars I could see his broad white chest shaped like a shield. His caramel-colored coat was tight and smooth, stretched over muscles that bulged and curved like waves frozen mid-crest.

Deer are lovely creatures. Delicate lips that part just enough for the tender peanut leaves to be grasped by hidden teeth. Limbs that stretch into a horizontal parenthesis as they spring into the heavy summer air. Eyes that stare with curiosity and suspicion and something akin to humanness.

I sat there for a long time, elbows on my knees, watching the deer, smelling the grass, listening to the insect buzz swelling from the branch.

A few days before I’d bought a couple of gardenia bushes. Grandmama Anderson had gardenias in her yard. Mama has a huge one out back near the grapevines. The scent of gardenias is the essence of deep summer and I wanted that scent within smelling distant of my own back door.

Every afternoon I poured a little water into the black plastic pots, following the very clear instructions to keep them moist "before and after planting." I kept waiting for rain, any rain at all, to soften the dirt enough for a shovel. After a couple of weeks of my daily baptisms, we got an afternoon shower and the gardenias went into the ground.

Drenched in sweat even at dusk, I stood back from the gardenias, gauged how they would look mature and covered in cream-colored flowers and how they would make my bedroom smell when I opened the windows. I was pleased. Hot and dirty, but pleased.

The next day we got another shower so I didn’t have to pull the hose from the other side of the house to water the gardenias and the coreopsis and the Russian sage. On the third day, we didn’t and I did. I rounded the corner of the deck. "Oh, no!" I heard myself gasp.

One of the gardenia plants had been dug out and thrown over on its side, several of its branches eaten down to nubs. The other was still standing, but had been clearly nibbled. Suddenly the loveliness of the deer with whom I share these woods evaporated. They became trespassers, interlopers, unwelcome visitors who’d audaciously come within 15 feet of where I was unsuspectingly sleeping the night away to graze on a buffet to which they’d not been invited. They had broken our usually easy detente and I felt betrayed.

I went to get the shovel and, as I went, I remembered the afternoon on the front steps when I’d been happy to watch the deer munching on Daddy’s peanuts. They didn’t seem so voracious or brazen then. Funny how a change in perspective results in, well, a change in perspective.

I thrust the end of the shovel into the same dirt I’d excavated just a couple of days earlier, tossed it to the side, repeated the motion again and then again. I grasped the gardenia at the base of its thin trunk and dropped it into back into the hole. I replaced the dirt and patted it down with my foot. I backed away to make sure that the plant was standing straight and realized that I’d not removed the tag, the one that instructed me to keep the plant moist before and after planting. The tag, I now noticed, that also proclaimed in big white letters "Deer Resistant."

How could you not laugh at that?

Copyright 2010

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