Culling the neighbors

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The town where I live is nicknamed “Tree Town” in part because of its many parks and the fact that extensive wooded areas surround it. Thus, human residents see a fair amount of wildlife, including skunks, opossum, badger and (ick!) feral cats. Occasionally red fox and coyote turn up in suburbia. Squirrels? Too bloody many to count!

Deer are by far the largest animals to visit. A patch of woods near my house is sanctuary for around 10 deer, including a buck. The herd appears frequently in the colder months, where its members eat ground-fall apples in a nearby yard or strip bark from tree branches when other food becomes scarce.

I love watching deer. They are beautiful, graceful, gentle-appearing creatures. The way they remain on alert whilst grazing, ears turned this way and that like early warning radar, fascinates me.

Much of my state is rural and large numbers of deer inhabit it. Thus, many people I know participate in bow and gun hunting, and their pastime contributes millions of dollars to the economy. I choose not to hunt but do not oppose others doing so. In fact, I enjoy the venison stews and jerky that I am invited to partake of now and then.

Naturally, not everyone in town is as enamored with deer as I am. It isn’t uncommon for homeowners to adorn their yards with plants—like hosta—that delight deer’s palates. Because of this temptation deer turn up in unexpected areas, to the surprise and annoyance of some local bipeds.

In recent times this human vexation has taken the form of a movement to reduce the deer population. It involves hiring a team of sharpshooters that track and shoot a specified number of deer in places where human beings won’t be endangered. This means people with rifles don’t interrupt folks grilling in their back yards, as they stake out their quarry.

Newton’s Third Law states “For every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.” This applies to many situations in life, including the present topic. Just as there are people locally that want the deer population culled, so also a portion of the citizenry opposes it. As the scheduled date for the cull approached the positions of those on both sides of the issue hardened. Stickers saying STOP THE CULL started popping up on cars, and online forums were peppered with comments pro and con. Despite the brouhaha the riflemen carried out their work without incident.

What lessons might this situation offer? (1.) Those that live where wild animals predate human habitation must expect them to be around now and then. (2.) And, if people insist on planting things that attract such animals they are guaranteed to see them on their property. (3.) Finally, folks must realize that the authorities will take measures to keep the animals in check.

Semple’s Muse – Part 10

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Semple frequented the Red Lion more often. He told himself that it was merely to enjoy a pint, although the visits offered opportunities to chat with Tacy Bronwell. When he plucked up his courage to ask the waitress for her work schedule Tacy thought for a moment then jotted down her hours on a napkin.

Consulting their diaries one evening—Semple’s was a traditional pocket-sized volume bound in brown leather; Tacy used an app—they settled on a date when she would dine at his house. Semple didn’t suggest a menu for the occasion to Miss H-V: she was bound to react negatively to his “meddling.” Without specifying what she might prepare for the occasion the housekeeper asserted that she would have everything under control.

The young woman’s assertiveness, which always seemed to be couched in ungraciousness, made Semple’s jaw clench. Every time he was on the verge of sacking her something came over him. Whatever it was kept Semple from acting out of his frustration. Mysteriously, the strange smell he had first noticed in the kitchen always accompanied these incidents. The coincidence of these things left him feeling uneasy.

*     *    *

It was a late summer Wednesday afternoon. The aerie’s windows were thrown open to catch any breeze that chanced to come along. Semple sat before the laptop, ignoring the sweat gathering on his forehead and the occasional insect that bumbled in as he typed.

Semple continued to be pleased with how work on the novel was going. Paradoxically, the richness of the narrative had grown inversely to the number of pages he churned out daily. In light of this he discarded the carefully crafted schedule he had worked up at the beginning of writing Allith, Mountain Flower Dragoness. He had to admit that, for someone as regimented as he was, doing this was freeing.

A vigorous rat-a-tat interrupted Semple. He opened the door to see Miss H-V standing in the hall, arms locked across her skinny chest.

“Didn’t you hear the bell? There are visitors.”

Miss H-V went into the aerie as Semple made his way downstairs. It annoyed him to see that the door had been shut and locked. Were the people outside Visigoths? He yanked it open, prepared to apologize for Miss H-V’s rudeness.

“Wrenna!”

Semple’s elder daughter was on the stoop. She and the woman at her side were identically dressed in jumpsuits made of a shimmery purple material, their hair and eyebrows dyed a vivid hue of sunflower yellow. The sight triggered a distant memory of characters in a book that was among the girls’ favourites when they were small. Labeled “Thing One” and “Thing Two,” Semple recalled the creatures’ propensity for wreaking havoc.

“Hullo, Father. I hope our popping over without notice hasn’t caught you out?”

“Of course not, my dear.” Semple and Wrenna exchanged smiles but all he got from Algeberta was a stony look. “Please come in.”

The women shed their gigantic rucksacks in the entrance hallway, all but blocking it. Semple asked Wrenna to take her friend into the parlour then he called up the stairs, asking Miss H-V to make tea. The housekeeper exited the aerie, shut the door and hurried to the kitchen.

Semple’s attempt at polite conversation with Algeberta quickly stalled; she said nothing and, apart from a tight smile, didn’t acknowledge his presence. It was a relief when Miss H-V entered bearing the tray and poured out. Before the housekeeper left Semple introduced her to the other women.

Looking up from stirring his cup, he saw that Algeberta’s blank face was animated. Was she about to speak? Her gaze was fixed on something behind him. When Semple turned he saw Miss H-V leaving the parlour. In the moment it took for him to come back round Algeberta had assumed her former expression. Wrenna didn’t seem to have noticed what happened. She sipped her tea and looked at Semple.

“So that is your Miss H-V? She looked ordinary to me, worlds away from what I’d call a woman of mystery.”

“First of all Wrenna, she is, in no way, shape or form, ‘mine.’ Tell me, are you and your friend here on a whim or because I need saving from Miss H-V’s . . . machinations?”

“Don’t be defensive, Father. The fact that I couldn’t uncover a scrap of information regarding Miss H-V piqued my curiosity so I came to see her in person. Regarding Algeberta, the Klemperer Group has employed her for several years now. She’s a hard worker and rarely takes time off. When I told Herr Klemperer about my trip, he insisted that Algeberta accompany me. Her English is rudimentary but at least we share the same fashion sense.”

Semple looked again at the German woman. She seemed unaware that his daughter was talking about her as though she wasn’t in the room.

“How long do you plan on being here, Wrenna?”

“Just four days. That way I can check out Miss H-V and show Algeberta around town a bit. Since Brexit the familiarity of people on the Continent with our country has dropped off sharply. I thought Algeberta and I could share my bedroom.”

“Actually you cannot: that is where Miss H-V stays.”

“Can’t you politely boot her out for the few days we will be here?”

Again there was that unidentifiable, irresistible tug. “Why don’t you and Algeberta take my room? I will make my bed on the parlour settee.”

 

[© 2019 Robert Edwin Stone, II]