Friday, August 28, 2009

Deer, Oh Dear!

She stood gazing at her garden plots. I could see the damage that held her spellbound. Deer had torn through her mesh fence and ate most of her parsnips. Tiny yellow petals clung to the ground, stalks bent, ripped, and chewed.

My mother-in-law had a green thumb. All her plants, herbs flourished even on our clay-rich soil. She grew cilantro, lemon mint, parsley, sawtooth herb, basil, thyme, parsnips. But deer stay away from smelly plants, so thyme and mint are safe. They ate only parsnips. My mother-in-law used to collect parsnip yellow flowers and boiled them with grapefruit leaves and washed her hair with the scented water.

I told her how people kept deer away by planting poisonous plants like monksfood and daffodils and foxglove. She could grow them among her prized herbs and plants. She looked at me, shaking her head. “No,” she said, “if those toxic plants kill them, I wouldn’t feel right.” She looked back down at the mess on the ground. “Them deer are hungry, you know that? Ever since they cut down trees in the back of our neighborhood to build that new road, those deer have no food to eat. Where can they go for food now?”

I was about to say something but stopped. As a Buddhist, she believed in karma and retributions.  I was thinking of a story I read in a Vietnamese newspaper. The story’s title was Mute Deer.  This farmer became outraged when he saw the damage the deer had done to his rice seedlings. He went home and cut down an armful of young bamboo. Then he slit the culms and sliced them into razor-sharp slivers. Before dark he went back to the rice field. He drove each sliver into the ground, leaving its thin blade hidden among the green seedlings. Dusk fell by the time he was done planting all the bamboo slivers. In the morning he went back to the rice paddy and inspected the damage. The deer had been there during the night. He could see that they ate the rice seedlings. But for each clump of seedlings chewed by deer, he found a piece of a deer’s tongue. There were bloodstains on the seedlings, on the ground. He walked around in his thick-soled sandals until he collected over a hundred severed tongues of various lengths. Them traps worked, he thought. The deer gathered the seedlings with their tongues and just as they pulled, the bamboo slivers sliced their tongues off.

I knew what she would say, if I told her that story. I didn’t want to think further about the man’s karmic retribution in his next life.

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