My new novel Trespasser
opens with a woman hitting a deer on a foggy Maine road. She's alone in a remote and unfamiliar place. What is she supposed to do?
It's an increasingly common (and scary) occurrence. Over the past 10 years, Maine has averaged more than 3,000 deer-vehicle crashes each year.
In one of my favorite natural history books, Heart and Blood: Living with Deer in America, Richard Nelson writes:
Few events in the history of North American wildlife have been so remakable, so unexpected, and so provocative of conflict as the rise of the suburban deer. In some places, as city waistlines spread into the countryside, deer have held their own instead of fleeing to rural lands that are already overcrowded with their own kind. And in other places, deer from the outlands have gradually colonized our neighborhoods, their trails weaving like veins of wilderness through the geometry of backyards, greenways, and roads.
From 1997 to 2007 a wildlife management district along the southern Maine coast had an average of 50 deer per square mile.
And many of these deer were infested with ticks (as much as 100 per animal) that carried Lyme disease. The prevalence of Lyme disease, an inflammatory ailment that can cause longterm damage to the heart and nervous system, has become epidemic in places. On Monhegan Island, nine miles off the Maine coast, residents voted to exterminate every last deer on the island after 13 percent of the human populaton came down with the disease. It's no wonder that the New Yorker writer John McPhee once called deer "rats with antlers, roaches with split hooves."
They are also spectacularly beautiful and graceful creatures that are a lot stranger than most people probably realize. Here are seven facts about deer that aren't widely known:
- Deer can sprint up to 30 miles per hour and leap as high as 10 feet and as far as 30 feet in a single bound.
- One in 30,000 deer is an albino.
- Deer can become rabid (so watch out!). A September 2010 Pennyslvania rabies report listed six white-tailed deer out of the 312 total positive rabies cases for the year to date. By comparison, Maine had no rabid deer through that date last year and none through June 2011. Just lots of foxes, raccoons, skunks, and a single sheep. That's right: a rabid sheep.
- During the fawning seasons (May–June) of 2005 and 2006, 13 con?rmed incidences of white-tailed deer attacking humans occurred on the campus of Southern Illinois University Carbondale.
- Deer have dichromatic (two-color) vision while humans have trichromatic vision. So what deer do not see are the oranges and reds that stand out so well to people — which is why blaze orange doesn't make hunters more noticeable to deer.
- White-tailed deer have been known to opportunistically feed on nesting songbirds and field mice.
- Dick Day, the illustrator who created Bambi for Walt Disney, used real fawns from Maine's Baxter State Park as his prototypes — so Bambi as we know him is indisputably a Maine deer.