A post about posts, deer, and death.

The past six weeks on the new homestead have been marked by wild weather and an even wilder workload.

Up here in the Great North, there is simply no point to starting on a garden or homestead before putting up a deer fence. So, that’s exactly what we newbie homesteaders set out to do: fence in our inner one-and-a-half acre clearing to provide a little protection for the kids from wild animals (electric trip wire to follow soon), and a lot of protection for the fruit trees and veggies from those lovely, relentless grazers. Not a day has passed since we moved up here that we haven’t been visited by these insatiable foragers. And as much as we love seeing them up here, I guess we love our veggies more.

Our fencing materials cost us a whopping five grand, but that was nothing compared to what we were quoted for professional installation.

“How much do you guys charge to install?” I asked a clearly frazzled and exhausted salesman when I put in our fence order. Apparently, this mom and pop shop can’t keep up with the sudden demand for fencing supplies; a lovely indicator that this family gardening gig is on-trend.

“Well, we’re booked out until July, but if you want to wait until then you’re probably looking in the ball-park of 45k.”

More surprising than that number was the fact that the salesman didn’t blink an eye or even wince when he rattled it off to me. Thankfully, he didn’t seem offended when I laughed out loud in his weary face. In fact, when I told him a decided thank you but no thank you, he smiled weakly and commended us for being willing to go for it ourselves. Only now do I understand why he was so impressed.

“Papa” bore more than the brunt of it —faithfully digging post holes, day after day, week after week, in rain, shine, snow, sleet, and sometimes all of the above. It would have been a formidable job . . . if it hadn’t been for the rocks and relentless spring snow.

Our mountain concoction of hulking rock and clay made it nearly impossible to dig those post holes, even with an auger. Thankfully, my hubby is just about as stubborn as they come. And, mercifully, my dad came home from his business trip in time to help him finish up the last few weeks’ worth of misery.

Six weeks, sixty-three posts, a thousand plus feet of fencing, a few feet of fresh snow, a broken and replaced auger, thousands of rocks, and two very battered and bloodied hands later, the fence is finally complete.

It was one of those jobs that is so incredibly traumatic that you can barely even feel proud when you have finished it. Our feelings over the finished fence are finally warming a week later, but at the start they could only be described as a mixture of relief, disgust, and dread that the deer would find a chink in the armor. In truth, we hadn’t even discussed what we would do in that instance. It was that elephant in the clearing that neither of us even wanted to consider. You know, deer denial.

It happened two days after the last post and length of wire had been secured, nearly a week ago now. I woke up in the morning and anxiously looked out over our clearing scanning for fluffy white flags. I smiled when I saw, for the second consecutive day, no intruders on the lawns. I called my hubby at work to relay the happy news. At last, we were starting to feel that sense of satisfaction creep in. I even thought to myself: “I guess we can start planting the fruit trees tonight!” I went downstairs to let Yeti out, and then back upstairs to make breakfast. I was experiencing that exhilarating mental shift of “on to the next!” But when I peeked out the window to see what our king of the forest was up to, my heart immediately sank.

I knew instinctively that something was wrong. Yeti was acting very strangely at the north end of the fence —jumping, bucking, and nosing around in a way I’d never seen. At first, it looked like there was nothing there at all, just speckled gray earth and rock. I leaned closer to the window and barely made out the fuzzy but distinct shape of a very large ear. I ran outside and got Yeti back to his kennel, with some difficulty, before going back to face a very sad reality.

It was something I hadn’t even considered —that in-between state. I’d been so worried in my mind about a deer getting in under or over the fence and not being able to get back out, or worse, breaking our fence. Isn’t the human mind such an all-or-nothing animal? We imagine one or the other outcome when so often reality lies somewhere in the middle ground. The idea of a deer only partially making it under our fence was something that never crossed my mind. And the possibility of a yearling breaking his neck in the struggle was so foreign a concept to me that I just stared at the poor crumpled creature for some minutes trying to make out what exactly had happened in the night.

When Papa came home, he hauled the young deer out into the forest and we turned our attentions to “onward.” Slowly, we’ve been making our way around the fence, day after day, piling rocks and debris along any gaps along the base of the fence.

The section of fencing that the yearling squeezed under offered maybe only two or three inches of wiggle room, and our uneven mountain clearing has created many such places for the earth to breathe under the wire.

It’s hard to explain the level of remorse we feel over this young deer’s death. My hubby hunts deer from time to time, and we see them dead on the side of the road almost daily. In such instances we don’t experience more than a cursory compassion. This past winter, when we saw deer legs sticking out of a snow-plow berm (read about that here), we actually laughed a horrible, dark-humored laugh.

Finding this yearling strangled by our fence was an entirely different matter. We didn’t feel any twangs of dark-humor, nor did we feel triumphant that our fence had successfully kept the deer out. On the contrary, we felt somehow that we had failed in our responsibility to this wooded homestead. Perhaps this seems a bit severe. But recklessly killing a yearling goes entirely against the heart of what we are trying to do on this plot of land. Of course, we have grand plans to feed our family only the best, nutrient-dense food we can grow. But our intentions for this homestead extend much further even than that.

More than anything, we want to create a homestead that works with nature, not against it. We want to create a holistic haven for birds, butterflies, and bees every bit as much as we want to create one for ourselves.

To this end, a whole section of our clearing has been set aside since the beginning for what I’m calling a “pollinator’s paradise” —a field of flowers with no purpose other than to feed the bees, butterflies, and hummingbirds. We have grand plans to put up bat and owl houses, bird feeders, and even intend to throw our surplus harvest over the fence line for the deer we aren’t feeding anymore.

The reality, however, is that our fence killed this yearling. Our being here and beginning on this holistic homestead, a place intended for abundant life, has already interfered with nature. And for the worse at that.

I’m not so sentimental, short-sighted, or happily unhinged not to be sober to the give and take of it all. Neither am I reluctant to forgive ourselves this sad mishap, because I believe, perhaps naively, that our efforts and intentions on this homestead will over the course of our years here bring about more healing than harm. All that being said, however, I think this is a good reality-check for any homesteader.

Farming isn’t picture-perfect —veggies aren’t always bug-free, trees aren’t always disease-resistant, chickens don’t always make it through the night, and cows aren’t always happy (even in California).

More simply, death is a non-negotiable part of the farm and homestead. Even if we choose not to raise animals, or decide not even to hunt them, death will still play its part on this property, as it will on any other. It won’t always be as dramatic as this deer incident, I hope, but it will visit us all the same.

There will be bugs to kill (organically, of course), there will be pests to war on (mice, rats, gophers, squirrels), there may even be the occasional wild animal to be trapped and re-located or even taken out (raccoon, possum, weasel, fox, wolf, bear, mountain lion). This is the reality of farming, and one we are, detrimentally, shielded from by industry.

Let’s not for one minute any of us mistakenly believe that our being here on this planet is not causing a fairly significant amount of death. If we eat, we cause death . . . yes even if we are vegan! A brick of store-bought organic tofu is often responsible for an appreciable amount of “crop-death,” that is the animal deaths incurred by clearing land for planting a field, in this case soybeans. Where mice and other ground-dwelling creatures make up the bulk of the casualties on US soil, far more diverse habitats are routinely destroyed on an international scale. This is especially true of soybeans grown in Brazil (now the largest producer of soybeans in the world) where rainforest is regularly cleared to plant new fields. And “crop-death” is in no way limited to soy. Google-check this if you’re suspect. There’s a staggering amount of reading material on the subject, although nobody’s numbers seem to quite agree with each other.

The focus of the debate seems to land on WHO is causing more death: the meat-eaters or the vegans. But death, it seems, is a given. Since animals eat crops it seems prudent that meat-eating is responsible for more crop-death, but the argument then changes to the types of deaths. Killing mice, gophers, and other common field-dwellers is much more justifiable to the bulk of consumers than, say, anteaters, ocelots, and sloths of the Amazonian rain forests. At the end of the day, however, the finger-pointing seems to me about as absurd as a lot of the political debates these days. But let’s just stick to “crop-death.”

The fact of the matter is that there is a death toll from rice to roni to pepperoni, no matter how you dish it up. And it’s not even just our mouths that issue such a death toll. It’s our fingers, as well. Meat may be murder, tofu may terminate, but cell phones slaughter, too.

I’m referring, of course, to a sort of gorilla warfare resulting from the mining of ore to make cellular phones and other electronic devices (as well as batteries). This mining has been directly related to the deaths of many species of primates over the past decade or two. If you didn’t know that fun fact already, I’m sorry for raining on your bliss.

It turns out that “Apple” is not as earth-friendly as it’s name suggests.

In fact, when you peel back the canopy of the Smartphone industry, the ore mining regions of South Africa, Asia, and South America often look about as gruesome as the pork and beef processing plants. Of course, the death toll numbers aren’t nearly as staggering for the tech industries yet as that of the meat industries, but one must confront the fact that the former is dealing with . . . ummm primate death. We need an Upton Sinclair for the tech-era, apparently.

This adds a whole new level of irony to the digital debating of the “crop-death” versus meat-eating death toll; everyone chiming in with their primate-killing thumbs.

The long and short of it is that if we eat, something dies. If we drive, something dies. If we fly, use a cell phone, decorate our house, or wear clothes, something is sure to die in the process. Sometimes that “thing” is even an endangered species, such as an orangutan. We’re still consumers the lot of us, and that role is never too pretty. How’s that for a daily dose of inspiration? 😆

What does all this mean? For me, it simply means that we need to be aware that we live in the real, consumer-driven world, and that death is a huge part of that. It means we need to pull down the screen of fantasy we live behind and look at life and death in full-D.

But above all, if we claim to be earth-lovers, perhaps we should focus our efforts on just that.

We can’t eradicate meat-eating, let alone “crop-death” worldwide, but we can bring some of the responsibility therein back to our own soil. We can come to terms with it. We can strive to give back more than we take, all the while acknowledging that the take is inevitable.

We can feed the bees, kill the beetles, house the owls, fence the garden, and give to our kids fresh, life-and-death produce to feast upon. Perhaps we don’t even need to feel guilty for it.

And when it comes to fencing, we can take care to consider both the safety and well-being of those inside and outside the fence.

Just this morning when I got up, I looked out my bathroom window and saw a yearling who looked like the ghost of the one that died. I suspect it was his twin, as I have seen them together before. I watched him exploring the very spot of his brother’s sad end, looking for where he might attempt to squeeze under also. I held my breath as he nosed the rocks that we painstakingly laid over the area, and then watched him skip merrily off into the forest, his beautiful white and black tail wagging behind.

Thanks so much for reading, dear friends.

Love, ~Our Holistic Homeschool~

2 Replies to “A post about posts, deer, and death.”

  1. This was a fascinating, honest, and even profound essay! Well-done. It is in those liminal spaces that death, especially of the innocent, often takes place. For what it’s worth, I think you wanted to say Upton Sinclair (the courageous socialist) rather than Sinclair Lewis (the clever atheist).

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