Treemendously Deer

This poor little shrouded lump was once, and hopefully will be again, an evergreen tree.

It’s a darn good thing I talk to my neighbors when I see them, so I know what’s going on and am not as surprised as I could be when men knock on my door wanting to know where I want the trees I haven’t ordered.

This was back in March, and I knew Lynn and I hadn’t ordered any — but I also knew the Leonards, located west of us but having recently acquired the lot to the south of us, had. The Leonards, the old-timers out here with about a decade under their belt, have several trees, in addition to the ubiquitous cottonwoods, on their original lot, but the one to the south is, or was, completely treeless.

I told the fellows they wanted the next lot over, just as I saw Mr. Leonard coming to direct them, but I also asked for a card. Which is how we made the acquaintance of Mr. Moreno of Montrose, who turns out to be the Johnny Appleseed of Riverwalk.

I don’t know how planned it was, but many of us got trees from Mr. Moreno this year. Mr. Moreno, who has been at this long enough that he needs a wheeled walker to be outstanding in his fields, doesn’t mess around: he brings a flatbed full of trees, a backhoe, and half a dozen hardy young men, and within a couple of hours you have a whole new forest on your land. (And a sprinkler system you didn’t ask for but somehow got talked into that was installed with equal rapidity and which has not worked well enough to warrant the cost, no matter how reasonable it sounded.)

We got a row of aspen trees along the ditch that marks the eastern edge of our property, and to the south we now have two crabapples, three little evergreens and one larger one that we refer to as “Uncle Jerry,” since that’s where my uncle’s ashes were spread last summer. We also got some grass clumps that I have never found but Lynn says she knows where they are (hoping to replicate the lovely six-foot-tall stand that is technically on the neighboring lot), and bushes.

We promptly lost, two days after installation, two of the baby evergreens and several of the bushes, which went on our two low-lying berms, because this is Gunnison and it still freezes in unpredictable fashion in the spring. Mr. Moreno showed up one day when we weren’t home and replaced everything that had frozen.

Then the work began. We unrolled the world’s longest hose that had been an impulse purchase from True Value, attached another lightweight but long hose to it, and a regular ol’ garden hose to that, and all summer Lynn dragged this monstrosity from tree to tree to tree while I used another mile of our hose supply to water the berms and all the areas our sprinkler system missed, wondering every single time why we had spent money on this for me to be out there watering what passes for our lawn but really isn’t.

The summer before I had found evening watering to be kind of a zen thing, out near nature, helping little flowers and grasses to grow, but this year it mostly just irritated me. Not only was I doing what we had paid for a sprinkler system to not do, it was so mosquito-y that no matter the temperature, I would wrap up in my extra-long windbreaker, the sleeves pulled down past my knuckles and the hood drawn tight as I sprayed water on Lynn’s front flower bed, riotous all summer long, and the wildflowers that popped up randomly throughout the “yard,” which otherwise consisted of tiny clumps of probably crabgrass and lots of scars from the sprinkler system.

And then I’d get to the berms, which gave me an inkling of why so many people I know, Lynn included, do not harbor charitable thoughts toward our friends the deer.

Everywhere you go in Gunnison, including the city proper, you find mule deer. Lots of them. Sometimes at work I look out the window to see six or seven of them crossing Main Street, usually properly in the crosswalk. Many’s the time I ride right past one, standing so still in someone’s front yard that they look like large lawn ornaments. When I was putting my car in my friend Carol’s garage one winter before we moved, I came nose to nose with the gimpy one with the broken leg, the one who didn’t have the wherewithal to run, so she just stared at me while I tried to pretend she didn’t exist, which is what I assumed she wanted of me.

I’ve liked watching the deer, but I have also heard plenty of wishes to exterminate them from an inordinate number of my otherwise pacifist, peace-loving friends — friends who all have gardens. While I enjoyed our deerquarium (the bottom of our tri-level, with its windows right at ground level), again almost nose-to-nose as they helped themselves to whatever was in Lynn’s flower beds, Lynn was not so sanguine about it.

Out here, Lynn and Mr. Moreno thought they had settled on some bush choices that were anti-deer — but the two of them forget to tell the deer, and throughout the summer the baby bushes looked just that much smaller and munched, no matter how many times Lynn angrily clapped her hands at the deer brazenly helping themselves.

What these deer don’t understand is that we’re doing this for them. Some day, long long in the future, these spindly crabapples will look like the ones we left behind in town, sprawling and giant, filled with fruit for the taking by both the deer and the birds. But they won’t get that way if the deer don’t leave them alone in these formative years. Why can’t they understand that?

But now the deer have gone too far even for me.

As instructed back in the spring by Mr. Moreno, in October we set out to protect our trees. Apparently we were supposed to worry less about them being eaten and more about bucks using the trunks to rub their velvety antlers against. We learned at Tractor Supply that in this politically-correct time it’s now called “poultry fence” rather than “chickenwire,” and it comes in plastic, which isn’t good for the earth but cuts easily enough with a basic pair of scissors.

We felt quite virtuous as we protected our aspens and crabapples, but Kara warned that deer mostly seem to go after evergreens, leaving the middles looking sparse and sickly.

We did tend to our evergreens, too: we put burlap on them, which the internet told me helps keep water from transpiring off the needles all winter when the trees are already thirsty. And then the burlaps disappeared off two of the little trees, on a non-windy day. Upon investigation, Lynn blamed the deer, since several little branches were broken and ripped off..

She put the shrouds back on, but a couple mornings later I looked out in time to catch a deer in the act. Saturday, then, I surrounded the little trees with poultry fencing — we had to go to Tractor Supply twice on Sunday, once with money, to get enough fencing to take care of Uncle Jerry. We also had to buy some stakes, because the Sunday morning wind lifted my wire circle right up and over the little tree the deer have abused the most.

So tree stewardship turns out to be an on-going process, and I’m beginning to understand why Lynn’s heart has hardened toward the most routine of our visitors, the ones who so readily make themselves at home. Damn deer.

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