After seeing a coyote out of my kitchen window last Saturday, I realized being this close to town was not, after all, going to deter predators from seeking prey. My first concern when I spotted the coyote was, of course, Emma and Ronnie deer, since the coyote seemed to be heading in the direction of their pen. But we also have chickens here, and their yard borders the deer pen. And just the morning before, I noticed something had tried to dig into the chicken pen in the night. It looked more like the digging of a fox, but that thought alarmed me since I also understand that a coyote is very capable of digging under the deer pen fencing. When we raised Daisy, we never secured the deer fence from being burrowed under. Back then, there had not been a threat like we have had lately. An apron fence to deter digging, had been in place for the chicken pen for many years, but we never had gotten around to doing the same for the deer pen.
Saturday afternoon I spent a lot of time researching how best to protect the deer from coyotes. I discarded the idea of scare tactics because those would probably scare the deer too. They were used to the motion lights on the house going off and on, and I felt that would be helpful, but of course coyotes acclimate themselves to the timing of things just as the deer had. I considered electric fence, but that seemed inadequate and maybe not as effective as I wanted, and there was the hassle of disconnecting it every time I needed to enter the pen. Finally, I decided I would have to put in an apron fence, but I was not about to install a dug apron fence like we had done with the chicken fence. I did not have the time nor the energy to dig all the way around the deer pen. A bent apron fence seemed much easier, since it did not require digging the fence down. With this type of fence, you bend the bottom foot or more of your fence out along the ground. That works because digging predators typically try to dig right along the fence, but encounter a barrier right away, and they just can’t dig down. And, fortunately, they cannot reason that, “I’ll just have to dig further back to get in.” When they dig, they dig at the fence line. If they can’t get in at the fence line, they go elsewhere.
Luckily, I already had a large roll of galvanized half-inch welded wire hardware cloth on hand. Still, I would need to order additional landscape staples to have enough to anchor the fencing down, until weeds and grass could grow up through the hardware cloth to anchor it more permanently. I did have enough staples left from a previous project to get a good start, and those would have to do until the additional staples arrived. Along with that, FD said he had some zip ties that I could use to attach the apron pieces to the existing fence, so I felt good that I had a plan that would keep Emma and Ronnie much safer after the installation of the fence apron.
But of course, with coyote on my mind and a fence apron not yet installed, I could not sleep at all Saturday night. I tossed and turned. I thought of that coyote lurking around our place, and poor Emma and Ronnie deer being an easy dinner if a coyote got under the fence. FD did not sleep either as a result of my flopping and tossing and turning. On Sunday morning, FD was up early again to partake in the primitive firearms season. I got up early too, and was relieved to find that Emma and Ronnie were just fine. But by Sunday, I still had not had a chance to start work on the apron fencing, and when it was time for bed, the old worry-wart in me emerged again, and I knew I would not be able to sleep. Finally, I asked FD if it would be silly if I camped out under the stars, keeping watch over Emma and Ronnie?
So, at 10:30 at night, FD and I went out to the storage building with a flashlight, and dug out his hunting cot and sleeping bag. FD set it up while I gathered my cell phone, a high-powered flashlight, a mosquito net for my head, and a packet of Kleenex tissues. My only concern, was the possibility of a snake looking for warmth, but my need to protect the deer was stronger. And as FD shut off the front porch light, and I got settled in the sleeping bag, I felt a bit giddy. This was the first time in my life I had slept under the stars. I had tent camped in my younger days, but never out in the open. And I wasn’t really alone, as I could hear Emma and Ronnie settling next to me on the other side of the fence. I could not see them through the shade mesh that covered the fence, but I could hear them move about, eat feed, and chew their cud and, every so often, Ronnie snorted, as deer do. I felt comforted with them so near me. In fact, I felt just like a mother deer in the wild.
By midnight, town noises subsided, and only the distant howling of coyotes could be heard from various directions. Occasionally my neighbor’s jughead dogs took to barking and throwing out their “banshee” screaming howls but, just as Emma and Ronnie had grown accustomed to the racket over the last five months, I too learned to ignore them as the hours passed. The night sky was clear and bright with stars, and the Orionid meteor shower put on a slow, but brilliant, display of shooting stars throughout the night. Barred owls hooted their calls occasionally, and once I was sure I heard the whisper of an owl’s wings gliding along the driveway as it headed east. I scanned the yard and pasture from time to time with my high-beam flashlight. As many animals do, I got up a couple of times and marked my territory too. I figured it is what any brave mother deer would do.
Actually, I slept well, awakening only to shift to one side or the other, or to rearrange a jacket I had brought to cover my head from the heavy dew. I had discarded the mosquito netting early in the night, as the temperature had dipped to 54F and insect activity had ceased. My sleeping bag was damp on the outside but, inside, I was toasty and warm.
At 5:00 our sleepy town began to stir, and by 5:30 I could hear traffic moving down the main drag just a few blocks away. The moon was bright in the sky now, and the stars seemed to be fading away. Emma and Ronnie were at the feed bucket again, crunching away at their mix of Purina Antler Max, “fruity kibbles”, and corn. I noticed the light in the kitchen come on, and I knew FD would be making his morning coffee soon, and that I should get up and get on with the day as I normally would. But part of me wanted to stay and watch the sky gently awaken and feel the earth warm in the sun, so I decided to stay snuggled up just a bit longer.
As I laid there and reflected on my night under the stars, I realized that my worry about Emma and Ronnie was gone. The initial fear that I had to confront a coyote, or deal with a snake in the night, had completely vanished as quickly as the first shooting star made its fleeting path across the night sky. I had come out in the dark to protect and guard Emma and Ronnie, but I ended up experiencing something greater for myself. My night under the stars did not bring the danger I had conjured up in my head. Instead, it brought me peace and tranquility, and covered me in a blanket of safety and comfort. Though I knew the mysteries of the dark would never be mine to understand, it was enough for me to experience the magic of this starry night with the hoot of the owls, the barking of neighborhood dogs and, mostly, the peaceful sounds of my Emma and Ronnie sniffing and snorting and contentedly chewing their cuds in the pen next to me…
© 2016 Day by Day the Farm Girl Way…