Winter Reflection: "Deer Palisades"

In three decades of living by the Tappan Zee Bridge we never owned property of any size. Thus becoming fairly recent newcomers to Oak Tree Road has held great delight for me and my husband, because of all the wild animals its looming trees and large yards support.

The first wild turkey which planted itself in the middle of our backyard and stayed for about an hour brought whoops of amazement from the family. But the first three deer, remotely seen grazing by a little stream at the back of the property, created instant and avid deer watchers.

As we settled in our first fall, one muddy November produced a tattoo of thousands of deer prints around an island of hosta in our front yard, leaving only the barest indication of what had been planted there. We now call it “deer candy”— and our nursery specialist said we should never hope to have roses or hosta — but we have had both for some unexplainable reason in subsequent seasons. Our arborvitae plants have begun to have feminine waistlines as the deer graze mid-way up them when we’re not looking.

During our second year here we had even more striking deer communication — on the Esplanade lawn driving to a flea market in full daylight, four grown deer munched placidly on fallen apples from the dwarf trees on the entrance lawn. We stopped to talk to them. Their expressions said something like, “Don’t watch….we know it’s daylight but we can’t resist …”

Driving west on Oak Tree Road back from Newark airport at two in the morning during the holiday season, a doe and her fawn were standing statue-still in the left lane on Oak Tree Road, just after the post office. We again stopped to wish them a happy holiday and suggested not standing in the street. They moved slowly to the side lawn as if it was actually their idea.

Our recently added bird feeders have attracted at least l3 varieties of birds, some I never knew remained in the North in winter: tufted titmouse, downy woodpeckers, red bellied woodpeckers, slate back juncos, and nuthatches, along with the familiar winter birds, cardinals, jays, chickadees, morning doves. A recent gaggle of grackles have descended who create clouds of small seeds as they perch, frantically brushing them out of the bird house tray with their wings to get to the larger sunflower seeds.

And along with the birds, we observe one burly fellow we have named Supersquirrel because of his ability to push over the feeding station, creating a glorious splay of seeds on the porch and then in a single bound, leap to the porch railing. From time to time I catch my husband applying Wesson oil to the bird house stand, but mortal man is no match for Supersquirrel.

In a recommended book, Cultivating Delight, the author Diane Ackerman remembers saving small apples which escape pies in the fall, instead giving them to the deer in mid-winter, then watching them quizzically savor the surprising sweet flavor in the midst of snow. Sounds like a lovely plan to me. Drawing all the animals closer with whom we share our Palisades property remains one of life’s great pastimes, as our lives become measured by unexplainably satisfying animal sightings.