Monday, November 21, 2005

Deer Season's Greetings from Pocahontas County

Rifle season for deer began here at dawn. In Pocahontas County, this is a bigger holiday than Christmas, even for kids. The schools are closed for the week, and, at least briefly, it supersedes video games and Barbie dolls. The hardcore among us have already been hunting with bows, and we have all been talking about the weather and the deer population for weeks. We generally agree that we need some snow, that the population is down, and the bucks are keeping themselves scarce.

This weekend, people who grew up here and moved away to find work have come back to hunt deer with their families. Home places and hunting camps that stand empty most of the year are occupied now, and the festivities will continue throughout the week. Thanksgiving dinner will be a disappointment if it consists chiefly of grocery store turkey. (Wild turkey is a different story--I mean the bird, not the beverage.) The crowd we run with plays traditional Appalachian stringband music, and we've had two late nights picking so far.

At our house, we eat deer meat about three times a week throughout the year, so food preservation is the order of the day. Our division of labor gives me the garden and orchard canning chores, which are finished for the year. Now I get to enjoy deer liver (by far the most delicious, delicately-flavored liver I've ever had), tenderloin, and steaks. We will freeze some steaks and roasts, and pressure can the rest. We are fortunate to have such high quality meat, with no hormones, antibiotics, or factory-farm bred diseases. As a former farm girl, I feel as if I'm cheating, because I didn't have to feed the deer, vaccinate them, or sit up with them all night when they were having their babies.

As recently as the 1970's, whitetailed deer were fairly scarce in Pocahontas County. However, it looks as if our days of abundant, low-cost, high quality wild meat may be numbered. Chronic Wasting Disease, long a problem out West, has been reported in four deer in Hampshire County, West Virginia, and I think DNR's talk about controlling it is a pipe dream. After seven years of reading and writing about microbial pathogens, I'm quite pessimistic about our ability to affect the spread of infectious diseases in animals or humans. (Don't get me started on bird flu or tuberculosis unless you'd like to get really bummed out. NIH and CDC are just putting out happy talk to postpone widespread panic.)

Oops, there I go with the pessimism. Forget that--there's nothing we can do about it, and all good things must come to an end. Happy Deer Season, everybody! I plan to enjoy my holiday to the fullest, savoring it more because it is fleeting. I'll play my banjo, and maybe I'll make some deer pate this year.

No comments: