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Mountain Home Magazine

The Art of War

“Oh, look at the deer!”

Watching the animals from our hillside home is one of the best things about our rural relocation. In the beginning, it was so novel to us that all activity would stop while we watched in silent appreciation. I must have taken 500 pictures of deer that first year.

I loved having close-up views of those sweet triangle faces and the bobby-socks-and-Mary-Janes coloring of their legs and hooves. Some of the novelty has worn off, but we still enjoy our privileged “insider’s view” of nature.

There are days when I feel like an interloper, like a territory invader, which I guess is true. We have a consistent group of deer that enjoy our reclaimed field. We spend many nights on the deck with our dinner companions below, munching grass and turning an occasional unconcerned eye to our perch. There are turkey, raccoons, and a beautiful red fox who, on his rare visits, treats us to a hunting exhibition.

All of which sounds idyllic, I know. But living in a rural area can really interfere with the demands of modern-day life. Heading out to work one morning, with me in the lead and my husband behind, we encountered a large doe, defiantly standing in the path of both vehicles. I beeped the horn, I edged the car forward, but she simply glared at me. I was at a loss to understand her. A glance in the rearview mirror showed my husband, rocking his arms as though holding an infant. All became clear: she had a fawn nearby and did not like the look of us. As a parent myself, I looked at her with new empathy. She met my gaze calmly, as if to say, “I am protecting my own.” We came to a compromise. I yielded the road to her. Compromise has a different definition out here.

Sometimes the standoff is less subtle. Flying off the hill one day, already late, I encountered a veritable traffic jam of deer and turkey in the intersection. It looked like the opening session of a Rotary conference. Feeling outnumbered, I leaned out the window and yelled, “I do not have time to star in a Disney movie today—move it!” Other times, we have to slow our vehicle as we follow a buck in rut trotting down the center of the road, nose to the pavement, reminding us that autumn is when a young male’s fancy turns to love.

My own significantly better half, Bob, is normally a gentle soul with respect for all of God’s creatures. Which is why I was surprised by the evil glint in his eye the day he said, “We have a woodchuck. A big one. He’s got to go.”

Bob had noticed the newly dug holes, a couple near the steps, a large one at the foundation. While I had no understanding what such dirt moving indicated, Bob was immediately on the alert. “He is shopping for a winter home. Well, he better start walking to Miami, because it isn’t going to be with us!”

Thus began “The Woodchuck War.”

Luckily—or maybe not—our son was visiting from Texas and brought a concurring opinion with his dad that violence against the creature was warranted. I left the house with great trepidation that morning, fearing that I would return to a property resembling a missile test site, pockmarked with holes. But the guys had a more surgical strike planned. They had found two ends of a tunnel and were plotting something akin to chasing down a runner between second and third base.

About halfway through my day, I received a photo via text from our daughter-in-law. Actually, it was a sequence of two photos, one showing our son inserting a billowing smoke bomb in one end of the tunnel. The second depicted my husband, stationed on the lower deck, shotgun at the ready, intently watching the other end of the tunnel. A heartbeat later came the terse message from Sarah, “You might want to head home a little early.”

Did you know that, if you really have to, you can U-turn on the Interstate?

I am relieved to report that all involved in the great woodchuck caper survived, including the woodland creature, which I assume either watched with great amusement from a safe distance or owns a surplus WWII gas mask. I returned to faint clouds of pink still lingering over the field, the shotgun returned to storage, and two amateur exterminators assessing the flaws in their plan over a couple of beers.

Whatever had happened, I had to smile a week or so later when I spotted a roly-poly figure lumbering down the hill. Though I am sure I imagined it, I would swear he forced himself awkwardly to a standing position, looked right at me, and winked.

I neglected to tell my husband. Compromise has a different definition out here, you know.

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