Saturday, August 23, 1997

White Deer

My grandmother and I used to travel to Inverness Ridge each fall to pick huckleberries, and to watch for a glimpse of Old Man Ottenger’s exotic white deer and the spotted fallow deer; but the National Park Service took the land from them, parcel by parcel—destroying most of the dairy ranches in the process—

The NPS gave the land to the public, tore down historic farm buildings, killed off the exotic deer: non-native species. If the alternative was a future of tract-housing, then they did a good thing, taking the land, but what they destroyed in the process was a thriving community of farmers and ranchers—for the greater good of tourists and their easy dollars.

But most of this land commuting northward at 2 inches a year along the Fault, is so far from civilization that its isolation is its salvation and its reward.

Trigger-points of memory: a certain angle of light reposes on the blood-red roses splayed against the limed wall of an abandoned farm. A bleached redwood wine vat holds the music of spring water plashing into the mossy trough where cattle and deer come to slake their thirst at sunset. Generations of barn swallows sip and weave the air into arabesques. No one wants to look at the moral dilemma: ranchers—treated like the Coast Miwoks their forefathers displaced—offered land treaties in the form of 25-year leases. Polyester tourists, also a non-native species. Rarer now to see the white deer.

Once while camping, I saw a big white buck in the night mist—an otherworld apparition of white on white—his antlers tining the haloed moon. But another kind of darkness hid in the pale Albion moonlight.

A sudden chill, a premonition drove me deep into the arms of pine boughs as truck lights severed the darkness. The silhouettes of two men illumined by red tail lights filled me with unseasonable fear.

At Limantour Spit death’s admiral was waiting in the staccato report of poachers’ guns—like Chinese firecrackers—the night they shot Ranger Kenneth Patrick for the rare white deer hides. Like the dried penises of white tigers, the deerskins were destined to be sold as aphrodisiacs and for healing magic to the highest bidder in the black markets of China.

© 1997 revised 2000 Maureen Hurley

The poem this prose piece came from:

"Clem Miller, a US Congressman from Marin County wrote and introduced the bill for the establishment of Point Reyes National Seashore in 1962 to protect the peninsula from residential development which was proposed at the time for the slopes above Drake's Bay. Miller's vision included the continuation of the historic ranching and oyster farming along with the preservation of the grasslands and open scenic vistas. The mix of commercial and recreational uses was the reason the area was designated a National Seashore rather than a National Park."


volcano gail said...

It gives me chicken skin to read this. I remember some of this, but vaguely. Riding in the family car through the ranchlands that were made to disappear, trying to understand why and what was happening to the land that felt like a natural extension of my home.

Maureen Hurley said...

Hi Gail, SO sorry I didn't reply sooner, I discovered a place where comments go to hide on blogger. Yes, Old Man Ottinger's white deer were something to behold under a full moon. Talk about The White Goddess!

Yeah, that eminent domain stuff has been on my mind a lot lately, I'm missing the hamlet of Jewel. Do you remember it? RIght after Samuel P. Taylor Park. The NPS let the houses founder and rot. So sad.