Half Drunk with Desire

Field Notices

Luther College Chips
November 12, 2007

   They get little sleep.  They hardly eat.  They walk crookedly across the lawn outside your dorm, half drunk with desire, their vision blurred except when it comes to females.
   No, I’m not talking about the more notorious “playas” at Roscoes.
   It’s Ta’kiruxe, the one time in the year when male deer on campus put aside their shy habits to behave a bit more like the fighting bulls of Spain.
   The Ioway Indian tribe, whose ancestors hunted this valley for at least 700 years, attached names to the lunar cycle that connected to their own activities or those of their more important animal cousins.  April is the Cultivating Moon: September the Frost In Animal Beds Moon.
As the current moon bellies out toward full on November 25, the males of the local deer population will become more and more obsessed with becoming top buck in the eyes of every available doe.  Ta’kiruxe is the Deer Rutting Moon.
    For the last month, male deer have been staking out their territory by cleaning bark off trees, rubbing their odorous parts against twigs and branches, and scraping patches of forest soil they are willing to fight to claim.  These signs shout out a signal to competing males: “Here I am, boys!  Your mother wears army boots!”
   The grunting calls these normally silent animals make to call attention to themselves provoke sparring matches with another male, or the interest of a doe.

   Bow hunters disappear into the woods, hiding themselves up in trees, donning camouflage, and sitting absolutely still as the day declines and the frost settles in, just to get close to this action.

   Snorting like thunder and crashing through the underbrush, a trophy buck charged my brother-in-law, one fall, when he sounded a mating call near the forest scrape that this body-builder of the deer world, all hopped up on testosterone, died believing was all his own.

   But you may not have to put on “camo” or make funny grunting noises to see similar behavior right here on campus.

   At the end of his night shift, one of the campus security men recently spotted a protective buck following a limping doe who has become a familiar sight around the college.  A hot and bothered buck like that can follow a doe obsessively for over a week.

   A few years back, towards the end of a November afternoon, I nearly bumped into a pair like this near the front steps of Main.

   For that pair, as sometimes may have happened for some of the more amorous couples in your own social group, the rest of the world had gone a little blurry.  Deer normally would not vie for sidewalk space with faculty on the way to teach their last Paideia section of the day.  But during the rutting moon, deer aren’t normal.

   The doe was taking little mincing steps.  She had her tail tucked as flat against her flanks as she could manage: the sort of female deportment that sends the hormone level in male deer skyrocketing.  The male was following, nose stretched forward, with a stagger and dazed expression that made it look like he’d just had an anvil dropped on his pretty antlered head.

   It was too funny and too bizarre to give me a scare.  But truth to tell, it is the one time in the year when an animal half crazed with buck fever might misinterpret the snort of laughter from a quiet English professor as the challenge from a rival deer.

   As it was, the two continued on their amorous way toward the bell green, oblivious to the grounds truck that stopped to let them cross the circle drive.

   Like the rest of the year, deer in the rutting moon are more of a danger to traffic than to pedestrians.  And their activity is more likely to be kept to woodland edges, after dark, or the very beginning or end of day than to be staged in the afternoon outside a college building.

   Still, I’d encourage you to keep an eye out.  Who knows what little spectacle of love or war Ta’kiruxe might send your way before, one month from now, the males of the local deer world wake up from their first good nap in weeks, very tired and very, very hungry and wonder what in the world exactly happened.