Expressway: Long Island's deer -- docile and dangerous

A deer grazes in Mastic Beach this past A deer grazes in Mastic Beach this past November. Photo Credit: Nina M. Scaringello

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My husband and I moved to Mastic Beach from Queens 25 years ago so our kids could have a big backyard to play in and go to school with the kids in the neighborhood.

My definition of nature was limited to the tiny front lawn of my childhood home in Bayside, which matched the size of my tiny backyard, with its roll-down awning and picnic table. We had lots of birds -- or so I thought -- and the occasional squirrel. Wildlife was something rich people saw on safari, right?

But on Long Island, there were so many birds I couldn't count them. Excited, we placed a bird feeder right outside the kids' bedroom windows.

We had other encounters, too.

On my way home from a late trip to the store, I saw two raccoons trying to open someone's trash can. Wow! I pulled over and watched until they gave up and ran away.

As time went on, I saw the occasional possum and, if we went to Smith Point Park at dusk, now and then a deer. For me, deer were creatures that lived upstate and were hunted by people like my brother.

That is, until this past year.

Perhaps they've been displaced by superstorm Sandy, or they're part of the growing population in Brookhaven and on Long Island's East End, but suddenly there are deer on our block.

At any time of the day or night I can find at least one, and sometimes six or seven, feasting on crabapples on our next door neighbor's front lawn. I have photographed them since last Christmas, including one that stared at the shiny lights on a friend's Christmas display.

They seem oblivious to the danger that cars present, running into the street with little provocation. They watch me back into my driveway with unblinking eyes until, suddenly spooked, they bolt, racing right behind my car before crossing the street and heading for the woods.

Among other factors, their naivete makes them a very real danger to the humans whose world they have entered. They carry ticks infected with Lyme disease, which I suffered from some years ago. And they present a hazard to the same cars that threaten them. A collision with a deer can do major damage to most vehicles, and injure their drivers and passengers.

This week, Newsday reported on the U.S. Department of Agriculture's plan, starting in February, to kill as many as 3,000 deer to try to control the population that has overrun the East End. Is it right to send in sharpshooters to "thin the herd"? Is this really the only option? The debate is underway.

 

In the meantime, I just watch them, amazed at how gentle and fragile they are, nature in its softest form. Their ears flick back and forth and their tails swish as they listen for any threatening sound. Their hooves click on the asphalt, sounding like groups of women in spiked heels rather than three or four deer walking by.

Watching them makes me feel a little less stressed and a little more blessed, for not everyone gets to have nature grazing on their front lawn. For now, at least.

Reader Nina M. Scaringello lives in Mastic Beach.

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