[Tweeters] Ruminations

Jeff Gibson gibsondesign at msn.com
Mon Jan 13 13:17:59 PST 2014

,The last month or so I've been spending a fair amount of time in Port Townsend Wa, to help out my elderly parents,who live there. As a naturalist, I find these visits a pleasant contrast to my typical Mudville (AKA Everett) habitat.Port Townsend has lots of my favorite things, like Madrona trees, clear marine waters, kelp, and walk-able cobble and sand beaches, unlike murky Mudville. The typical beach substrate around the Thumb of Mudville will suck your shoes right off, if you're not careful. Maybe suck you up too.
Another endearing feature of Port Townsend are the deer. Port Townsend is swarming with some of the best looking deer you'll find anywhere! Big healthy Black-tailed Deer - health possibly provided by many of your former yard plants, if you live there. I guess your'e not supposed to gun down deer in the city limits, presumably to avoid collateral damage; you know, like killing the neighbors with missed shots at deer in a gardener's 'war of the roses'. Leave it to local wildlife to find the nearest demilitarized zone.
I find much to admire in a deer. Not only are they good lookin', they are remarkable athletes. The other morning I watched a doe leap, from a static position, easily over a five ft. tall fence. Even an iron-thighed Olympic track medalist couldn't pull that off. Vegie gardeners in deer country must surely have tall tales of the height of fence a deer can jump over.
Oh sure, they're cute, but deer are tough as nails. Hey Rambo, gonna take on a deer? Better bring some artillery to defend yourself with. Don't let those doe eyes of Bambi's mother fool you - that deer could eviscerate you with one good kick. Kick your sorry butt down the trail like an empty beer can.
Many years ago, while working on the East Bank trail along Ross Lake in the North Cascades our crew found ourselves surrounded by hungry, and largely pregnant, deer. We had just been hauled up the reservoir by boat and had a ten day supply of food under a tarp on a picnic table. This was in May, and I guess we were the first food providers for these apparently campground mooching deer. Like a tightening noose, the circle of deer moved closer to the food table. Shooshing them off wasn't working. Finally one big doe got really bold. I picked up a beach cobble the size of a tennis ball, and throwing it hard at the deer, connected - got it right in the side. I was mildly appalled at what I'd just done, but the deer barely flinched. In fact it rushed the table and grabbed, amusingly, a bag of ramen with the trade name of "smack". I guess it was sort of hillbilly heroin for campground addicted deer. The whole trail crew followed in pursuit of the thieving deer - the bag ripped in the deer's mouth, and we got our bag of smack back.
Another year I was a goat milker on Vashon Island, where I learned more about the toughness of ruminants. Watching those octopus-eyed goats kick the hell out of each other without much apparent damage. Similar moves to a human, would send you to the Emergency Room. My favorite goat move (not really) was when one particularly ornery goat would kick the just filled milk bucket across the barn, something it did on a fairly regular basis. And then there was the billy goat - I don't even want to talk about that.
Ruminant? Well that would be one of many browsing (eats woody plants, like a goat or deer), or grazing (eats leafy stuff. like a cow or sheep) mammals. They all have an extra stomach, called the rumen, to digest all that vegetation they eat.
Ever wonder what happens to your rare " the Honorable Francoise Le Poopydeau" rose as it disappears down the mouth of a deer? I highly recommend the essay "footprints" in David George Haskell's excellent natural history book ,"The Forest Unseen", wherein he describes, in a wonderful manner, the workings of deer's rumen. You'll never see a deer, or other ruminant, the same way again. You'll be amazed about the miracles of digestion! There is a whole ecosystem goin on in there!
I realize that Tweeters is not a ruminant website, so I might add that Mr. Haskell's excellent essay also has some interesting observations about how deer populations affect the woodland ecology overall, including bird populations.
Jeff Gibsonjust chewing away inEverett Wa

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