A great demographic shift has occurred in America: the rise of the suburban deer. First you hear of a buck going crazy in a china shop. Before you know it, a group of activist does launches a Bambi boycott. You may not have noticed them, but somebody’s eating your hydrangea, and you have to ask yourself: how well do you know your next-door neighbors?
I first made contact with these creatures several months ago. It was early Sunday morning and I was hard at work on a crossword puzzle. I was almost finished, but the answer to the final clue—"an 11-letter word for an animal most active at twilight"—eluded me. Then I heard a voice from outside shout, “Crepuscular!” I looked out the kitchen window and saw the blur of a 12-point antler rack. By the time I had my camera, the deer was gone. But I knew I had the subject of my next movie.
Dogs come to the suburbs to escape stifling leash laws, and cats are here because it allows them access to a larger tax base. Buy why so many deer? Why now? Their jittery nature suggests the exurbs rather than the suburbs. I decided to find out. I had no idea how O. virginianus would change my life.
The funding environment is unkind to the wildlife filmmaker. These days, everyone with a camera and a bear suit is making a film, and the documentarian must come up with daring funding strategies. I’m not proud, but film is altered. There is too much emphasis on predator versus prey—the car-chase scene of the wild. Special effects are added. And don’t even mention the slick, inspirational soundtrack. The only soundtrack that nature knows is the sound of evolution laughing.
Nobody was interested in my film, not without some sample footage. The current fad is celebrity wildlife. If I wanted a full feature movie to top my award-winning work on sea cucumbers, I had to catch these elusive creatures on video.
I spent weeks tracking the deer, using the renowned patience that first brought me acclaim when I documented the great banana-slug migration. Then I set up a hunting blind—a drive-through espresso kiosk at the mall parking lot. I learned that deer spend time at the gardening section of Home Depot, eating the free samples, but as soon as I showed up they were gone.
After a few more fruitless stakeouts, I received an anonymous tip to try the salad bar at Whole Foods. Once there, I noticed hoofprints on takeout boxes and the heady mixture of deer scat and organic kale. Turns out kale doesn’t agree with anyone. There was one clue: an address.
The address led to a clearing. It was a nice neighborhood, even though the bottom 5 feet of every tree and bush was denuded. At first nothing happened. I kept myself hidden in a cluster of pink flamingos and those painted cutouts that look like dumpy women bending over and exposing their underwear. Several young deer congregated and, to my astonishment, started to play soccer. I set up my video camera and started taping. The kids are pretty good players, even though they don’t have feet. In my excitement, I must have stepped out from my hiding place.
“What do you think you’re doing?” a buck yelled. “I didn’t give you permission to film my kids!” “I’m gonna sue!” said another one. They were all shouting. Alone, exposed, I understood what was meant by “a deer in the headlights.” All at once they attacked.
The beating was swift and merciless. Just because you’re a vegetarian doesn’t mean they won’t gore you. The cuts were deep, but I had something substantial on tape.
The next day, I hurried into the production office to show off my footage. They kept me waiting until the very last hour of the workday. I bragged that my deer movie would knock all those penguin movies off the charts. But, somehow, it was all gone, replaced by stock footage of wild deer nibbling on plants in a forest.
“I think we’ve seen that before, Marty,” said my producer. “What’s next—_Squirrels in the City_?”
The meeting was over.
I returned to the parking garage, deflated and tired. It was late. Shadows played tricks on my eyes, but I was sure I noticed a familiar pattern.
“Nice rack,” I said. A buck appeared from the shadows.
“What do you really want to know?” he asked.
I don’t know why he was so trusting. Maybe it’s because I wrote my animal name in urine on my flannel shirt. I grabbed my video camera from the trunk, but the deer put his hoof gently on my sternum. “No video. No notes.”
“Fine.” I asked him one simple question: “Why have the deer come to the suburbs?”
“Lots of reasons,” he replied. “A shorter hunting season. Less Lyme disease. And the country’s changed. Seems wherever you go there’s a Target.”
As I drove home that night, I thought about his words. Suburban deer were here to stay. They were our new neighbors. For once, I turned my camera inward. Cervine-Americans wanted privacy, just like everyone else.
All at once I realized my new calling. The deer need housing. They need someone to help them through the complex real-estate negotiations, someone who can make sure they get the best mortgage rates, and can make sure their next-door neighbors aren’t hunters. I will go into real estate and help each deer family find what everyone wants: a nice house with a nibbleable garden and a freakishly large backyard.