Wednesday, January 23, 2013

The Yearling by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings

Oh, Deer (Amazing Animals Week)

The Yearling by Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings is a classic, first published in 1938 and still in print today. Jody Baxter is a boy growing up with his mom and dad in the backwoods of Florida during the turn of the century, the former one, not Y2K. Jody is an only child in a poor family who desperately wants a pet.  Ma Baxter, however, is a tough nut.  She’s lost half a dozen kids before Jody and lives a hard life. She’s no softie. There’s not enough food to feed an animal. So Jody learns that “no” means “no”—sort of.   Eventually, he finds a little fawn, whose mother was shot by Jody’s own father, no less, leaving the baby deer a little orphan in big country. Jody reluctantly gets permission from Pa to keep the fawn with the stipulation that he release him when he’s a yearling. Ma is not thrilled.

Jody and “Flag” become buddies. As Flag grows up he slowly but surely becomes a nuisance. It’s the human equivalent of the terrible twos.  Instead of throwing spaghetti noodles around the room as a two-year old might do, Flag starts tap dancing on their fields and snacking on their corn, food they desperately need.  It’s the last straw and Pa orders Jody to shoot Flag. I’ll leave it at that. Read it to find out what happens. But I will tell you that the yearling refers not only to the fawn. Metaphorically Jody is also a yearling who must grow up.

Personally, I can see both Ma and Jody’s side of the argument. On the one hand, who doesn’t want a cuddly fawn to call his own?  On the other side, it’s an episode of “When pets go bad.” When I first moved to Idaho the only wildlife I had seen were lizards.  So when I saw a deer peeping at me right through a bedroom window, I was shocked and excited.  A deer!  A real life deer with big brown eyes was right next to me, separated only by a thin pane of glass.  It was crazy cool, like living in a zoo.  But like Jody, I soon learned that deer were really 200-pound rats. 

They nibbled on everything I tried to grow.  Tulips were like candy.  I tried every deer deterrent I could find. I threw mothballs into my planters. It’s amazing how disgustingly strong mothballs are even in the open air. For a week after I placed the mothballs, I hurried past the planter.  I did not linger; it stunk.  But the stench didn’t bother the deer any, they happily beheaded my beautiful red Apeldoorn tulips one by one.

Oh, it was on now! Like Ma Baxter, I was ready to blast them to kingdom come. Instead, I studied up on strategies.  One book suggested human hair, which I diligently saved in a Big Gulp cup under my bathroom sink.  Weekly, I’d scatter wads of follicles. The deer ignored them and continued eating.  I planted Dial and Irish Springs soap bars on popsicle sticks to no avail.   And in a final desperate attempt, I even had my son urinate around the flowers as one book proposed.   The deer laughed and chomped on. 

Just when they thought they’d won, I pulled a fast one on them.  I gave up on tulips and switched to daffodils.  That’s right, daffodils.  The deer hated them, stayed away from them like Superman to Kryptonite. And instead of fields of red, I had fields of yellow. I was okay with that.  Turns out there is a huge variety of daffodils with different colored cups and petals, shapes and sizes.  I had several planters full of them.  I also had them in vases throughout the house.  To me they were kind of like trophies, like mini stuffed deer heads. Proof that I had won.  Ahhh, victory!  It sure tastes good.

And just to spite them, I grew more and more unsavory plants, morsels that look good, but one bite and they'd be spitting them out like a vegemite sandwich:  grasses, basket of gold (Aurinia saxitalis), snow in summer (Cerastium), Golden Chain tree (Laburnum). If it looked good, but tasted bad, I had it. And in the end I had a pretty decent garden despite the deer, the masses of rocks, the sparse soil, and lack of water.  

I’ll leave you with a little taste of The Yearling—the colloquial dialogue, which I really liked.

“Ezra Baxter, if your heart was to be cut out, hit’d not be meat.  Hit’d be purely butter.  You’re a plague-taked ninny, that’s what you be.”
Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, The Yearling (1938; reprint, Pleasantville, NY: Reader’s Digest Association Far East Ltd., 1993). 237

Happy reading!


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  1. Thank you for the suggestion, I have never read this book, yet.

  2. I dont know if I want to read this book, I kinde read between the lines. I am still suffereing from reading "Of men and mice" - but I would read it again in a heartbeat. I guess "the yearling" should be on the reading listy .