Though deer are generally a source of torment to me as a gardener, today one pair of them was really funny: a fawn standing halfway under a doe, trying to nurse while she tried to get away. She’d take a few steps and Junior would keep up, staying tucked under; she’d put on a little burst and shake him off, and he’d catch up and glom on again. I don’t know if she was trying to wean him, or just trying to get herself a snack, but it looked like a vaudeville routine. They both seemed very determined.
I could definitely relate to mama, but on the other hand realized if she succeeded he’d move on to eating my flowers. As I’ve said before, there’s nothing more clueless about what to eat than a fawn. I’ve seen fawns eating foxgloves and nicotiana, a bad idea not just for my landscaping but because those plants are poisonous. I used to wonder how deer knew to steer clear of poisonous plants, but it seems they don’t. They just eat whatever looks good to them, and the ones attracted to poisonous plants don’t survive. It’s brutal out there.
The weather’s not brutal yet, but the deer have begun grouping up for winter. This is another deer fact that has confused me. Food sources are so scant in winter, you’d think the deer would spread out to get enough to eat. All summer the deer come through by twos, threes, or fours – a doe or two at a time, with her fawns. Then the leaves start to fall and the nights start to cool, and the deer start to bunch up. For warmth together overnight? For safety from predators under those leafless trees? What predators? Their only predators in this area today are people, and we’re not very good at it. It’s certainly easier for us to spot a herd of deer than a pair of them. Guess they know that, as deer predators go, we’re pretty lame. That’s comforting, isn’t it? To know we’re not a source of terror to all nature.
In other mysteries, my tomatoes are petering out early this year. Who knows why, but it was a weird year for weather – some things did amazingly better, some things surprisingly worse. The tomato plants are looking ragged, but they still have fruit and it’s still ripening. This is when I start watching the weather forecast carefully, for frost warnings. I could give up and bring them all in now, but that’s not very sporting.
Among the happy campers in my yard are the mountain mint, zinnias, asters, and Russian sage, plants that keep blooming as summer winds down. Trying to stay on nature’s good side, I put in more of these plants that bloom into fall, providing food for bees and butterflies. For some reason I have millions of Cabbage Whites this year – I grow none of the vegetables they prefer, but they’re good with mountain mint – and I also have a lot of Fritillaries.
I love Robert Graves’ poem on the Cabbage White’s “honest idiocy of flight,” but Fritillary is just a wonderful word. The name, shared with a similarly checkered flower, comes from the Latin “fritillus.” According to the quick and easy dictionary in my computer, fritillus meant “dice box.” According to my big, heavy, deeper-delving OED, it meant a chess board. Dots, checks, or spots, in both cases. I wanted it to have some connection to the word “frit,” a term from glass blowing. Apparently not. I learned these butterflies were fritillaries from Marcy Breslow, one of the authors of this handy guide, which I highly recommend.