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Monday, January 2, 2012

A New Year

Gail was in very good spirits today.  It's January 1, 2012, and she believes it is going to be a good year.  Me, too.   I think that 2012 is the year that we will gradually see a transformation from Deauville being a deer farm, to Deauville being an organic vegetable, fruit and egg farm.   And it will also be the year that the film ceases to be something only in our imagination and takes shape into a final product.

Gail Rose and her Fallow Deer
The news out of Deauville today is that the deer paddock on the left side of the farm is now closed to their gentle hooves and nibbling mouths.  The fence in the back of that paddock has become untenable.  We walked the whole fence line -- as Gail always does after a storm -- on December 28th.  Gail, my brother Tony, Aidan, Dylan and I.  There had been big winds in the valley the day before and Gail was worried that a tree might have come down.  This is a constant concern for her.  "As a deer farmer, wind is my biggest enemy, " she commented, with a considerable note of worry.  Fortunately, we found no trees down -- only the remnants of past wind damage.   But nonetheless, all was not well along the fence line.

The first problem we discovered was that the dogs had tunneled under two sections of the fence, gaining access to the deer late at night.  Gail thought they had actually been leaving the farm somehow and running out onto the county road.  But no, they were crawling under the tall deer fences and chasing the herd around.  One spot Gail had already blocked with tree limbs and rocks.  But Aidan discovered a second.  "Sam did it" Gail said confidently.  "Look how strong she is."  She had yanked wires to the side with her mouth and then lifted a central section so that they could tunnel underneath.  Amazing.

You can imagine that Sam and Cinder have gazed at those deer for years, wishing they could somehow get at them.  And they finally did, much to Gail's dismay.   For these dogs it was likely a moment of nirvana -- a taste of their wild heritage -- but it was also a highly illegal activity on the deer farm.  So we blocked up the second hole.  Gail said in future the pups would be on leash for their last pee of the evening.

The second problem we discovered was more significant.  Erosion on the back flank of the farm had covered a section of fence maybe 80 feet long with enough soil that the fence now stands only 3 feet high in places.  Gail shook her head when she saw how bad it's gotten, saying "Thank God the deer haven't discovered this spot since they could just about walk over it."  She bravely added that it was the next "big job" ahead.  I couldn't imagine what she could do about it, but she explained that she'd run a new length of fence along that section.

And for now, we would herd the deer over to the central and right hand paddocks, and then close the gates to this section.  I thought to myself, "No problem -- I've herded cattle before," and headed confidently out above where they stood.  But Gail quickly called to me to slow down.  "The deer will panic" Gail cautioned us. "We have to go very slowly." I saw how they seem just one step away from bolting at the sight of the humans doing something unusual.  Following Gail's lead, we'd take a few steps then wait.  Finally, in jerky, stilted, fits and starts the herd moved the way we wanted, seeking their escape into the central paddock and off to the far right side of the farm. 

So today when I arrived again with my brother, intent on filming an update interview with Gail, she said, "Well that's it.  That side of the farm will not see deer again."  I realize it's an important step toward phasing out the deer, but there's still about 60 does and their fawns, and so I worried about the coming snows and freezing temperatures.   In winter, the deer have taken to seeking refuge in the barn and will no longer have access to it.  But Gail of course already had a plan for that.  She will open the right side of the barn to them since it could be accessed from the central paddock.  She said it will take about 3 weeks for them to grow accustomed to the new arrangement, but "they're smart and they'll figure it out."

And meanwhile, in a spot where the deer used to wander freely, there's a new pumpkin patch taking form in Gail's imagination.  Far back in a lovely corner of the farm that few visitors have ever seen, she has one "perfect acre" of cleared land left from a previous farmer.  All the rock has been painstakingly removed to the edges of this open acre in the forest, and the land used to be used for corn.  So this is Deauville's future pumpkin patch.

And so begins the transformation of Gail's farm....

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