I had a lovely time yesterday afternoon.
I got this idea that Small Town Newspaper needed a story about the damage our burgeoning deer population is causing to area farmers. So, I got on the phone with a director from the state farm bureau and learned that the state of Ohio has around one million deer, but the bureau would like to reduce the number to a quarter million. Of course, the only way to do that is to kill the things, so they are working on ways to get hunters in touch with farmers.
Most farmers don't like opening their land to hunters because they've had bad experiences with them in the past. Sometimes hunters come with buddies and sit in the woods, drink beer, and shoot anything that moves. One farmer said to me, "If it's brown, it's down," as the motto the jerks tend to have. And some hunters will show up in the middle of the night, or shoot too close to a residence or wipe out the buck population for the trophy of the antlers but leave the does behind to have more babies. Did you know deer tend to have twins? Deer can also jump ten feet high, and a buck can smell a doe in heat from seven miles away. Fascinating.
So, we have too many deer, and now there is a website to connect smart and experienced hunters with the farmers who want to save their crops. That leads me to yesterday afternoon.
I was aware of a Christmas tree farmer near here who has suffered a great deal of damage because of deer, and he agreed to give me a tour of his acreage to show me first hand. I arrived at his house on schedule, but he and his wife were running late and just having lunch. We sat on their back deck in this secluded and perfectly groomed garden with flowers and humming birds and a glistening swimming pool, and the view down into the valley and across the neighboring hills was spectacular. We talked about all kinds of things, mostly deer. And we drank soda and laughed and enjoyed the sunshine.
After lunch, I hopped on the little car thing with the farmer for a tour of the damaged trees. Here is where I'll confess my ignorance and let you think I'm a total idiot. The day before, when I called for an appointment, the wife said her husband was out on his mule. He later returned my call and said he'd be glad to give me a tour. "We'll hop on the mule and go out to the field," he said. I was excited because I've never ridden a mule before, and I thought I'd like to add that to my list of experiences for Small Town Newspaper.
Well, a minute or so later, when I was telling the farmer one of his neighbors had driven me out to his field on his all-terrain vehicle, he said, "Oh yeah, he's got a mule, too." That's when I realized I would not be riding a cross between a horse and donkey, but I would be riding a little cart with the brand name of Mule. What a disappointment.
Fortunately, I hadn't expressed my excitement for mule riding to the farmer, so I didn't have to apologize for being a maroon. The ride out through the damaged trees on the stupid cart was fascinating, and I learned a lot about different kinds of Christmas trees and how deer go about eating them—they like white pines and Norway spruce, by the way, but they aren't so fond of the Scotch pines because they are so prickly. Another nice afternoon in pursuit of a story.
This is one of the few remaining white pines on the farm. Deer have eaten it as far as they could reach without standing on their hind legs. This is typical of a lot of trees on the farm.