Fall. Apples. Hunting. And things that go “bump!” in the night. All combined at our little farm this past month. For good and for not so good.
It began three autumns ago when we planted two apple trees. Naturally, my old goat Lucky figured they were just for him. So I surrounded the trees with chicken wire and sank ugly green metal posts in the ground to hold the wire up.
And it worked. Lucky looked elsewhere to get into mischief. And as for our deer population, they seemed to follow his lead. Over the years the deer herds of Caspers Hill seem to give us a pass, feeding on our meadow, having their fawns in the woods and all without fear of rifle or arrow since we don’t hunt.
Of course, my new herd of goats came after Lucky’s demise. So they had no role models about respecting chicken wire. And with time, the curious and brilliant little criminals realized that “Hey! We’re not chickens! This stuff’s a pushover!”
And so it was I found myself shrieking like a fishwife - more like a sailor according to my poor husband - at the six juvenile delinquent goats as they shoved over one after another of my sad attempts at shoring up the flimsy wire barriers around the trees.
And it worked. Both the shrieking and the shoring up, I mean. I got a nice harvest of little red cooking apples off the trees last month. Tart, but tasty. And with my first-time-ever-grown-from-seed tomatoes, plus the angora and cashmere fleece filling bag after bag, I felt quite smug.
Then came the fall…in more ways than one.
One of our favorite couples and fellow chicken aficionados asked a favor: Could a family member of theirs hunt our woods for deer this year? Without blinking, we said, “Sure!”
Paul was the decider on this, although I totally agreed.
Paul has been the keeper of our 80 acres of woodlands lo these 19 years. He built about three miles of paths through them, “most on my hands and knees,” he’s fond of telling folks. And so he knows each turn and twist. Each exposed rock and root. Where the ferns grow taller than his waist in August. Where the ephemeral wildflowers peek through the duff in May. And where our old Labs used to run off so often on a deer path at the top of a hill.
But this summer, Paul could only dream about his woods. The paths went wild. Trees fell and were not removed. Thanks to a still-healing broken hip, Paul is only now taking his first tentative steps without a walker, a huge victory not to be sniffed at after seven months.
So when our friends asked a favor that meant our woods would see some use and enjoyment, of course Paul said “Sure!”
Our friend’s family member, Tom, turned out to be a super guy. He brought his grown son, who flew in from the Carolinas for the hunt. The two arrived last weekend outfitted in blaze orange. The day was sunny and balmy, not your greatest deer hunting day, but the next day clouded up nicely and the son got a spike buck, his first ever. And even though we knew well the buck was likely one of the fawns we’d watched on the meadow, we were happy for them.
Before leaving Monday, Tom stopped to praise Paul for the beauty of his paths and to thank us heartily for the chance to hunt here. The woods, he said, were a delight even if no deer had been seen or harvested. And then he presented us with a quart of his home-harvested maple syrup and a stunning offer.
“How would it be if I came back next spring and mowed the paths and got the downed trees off them?” he asked.
Paul was inside napping when Tom said this. But I knew what he would say. Not just “Sure!” But more likely, “Sure! You betcha!”
I think Paul and I both went to sleep smiling that night, imagining our paths all sweetened up and ready to hike again when the ephemerals bloomed.
“It’s true about that karma thing,” I told Paul.
“Say again,” he said.
“You know, ‘what goes around comes around?” I replied.
Little did we know that karma of a different sort was taking place out in the yard while we snored away inside. The next morning on my way to the chicken coop I was stopped dead in my tracks by the twin scenes of destruction in my path. The wire barriers around both apple trees were flattened. A few branches on each tree were left, dangling and dying like the broken pact between the deer of our forests and us.
There’s a Spanish proverb that applies here. It goes: “Take what you want but be willing to pay for it.”
And so, we did and we are. Even though we didn’t know the price in advance.