Friday, July 04, 2003


I don't know how people in places that are actually hot deal with it.

I'm now gratefully sitting right in front of the air conditioner in the Unabomber Cabin and I feel like one of those collapsible containers for campers after all of the water is gone. I sag in my chair, my eyes half-closed, and it's taking a real effort of will to type this.

It's already been quite a Fourth of July and it's only 2:30 p.m.

But I really need a nap before I can even contemplate constructing a narrative of same.

For now...

Rode in 1958 black Buick with mayor and two mayoral nieces (aged seven) and one mayoral nephew (aged eight) who seemed to be trying out for a Three Stooges revival (who knew clocking oneself in the head repeatedly with one's own fist or a tootsie roll could be so hilarious?). Threw candy, waved, got one arm sunburnt.

Watched shoot-out play in the street, grateful not to be in period dress this year. Joked with former teachers and long-lost friends about how I tried not to read too much into the fact that when I'm in this show, my character is always the first to die and I am thus on the hot asphalt "playing dead" for 20 minutes or more.

Rode bike the long way up the hill to my parents' house. Sat on deck. Spilled diet coke on myself. It felt good. Almost as good as when a neighborhood munchkin tagged me with a super soaker.

Winced at sunburn.

Rode bike back to Kate's Landing. Temporarily converted same into rugged, all-terrain croquet lawn for slow, tortuous game of Extreme Croquet with My Own Dear Personal Mom and My Own Dear Personal Sister. My Own Dear Personal Dad napped in a lawn chair. Molly the Collie of Folly swam in the river, rolled in the grass, swam some more, rolled some more. I got an ass-whoopin' in croquet match. Should have made them play "cocktail croquet."

They're all napping now.

My turn.

Fireworks to be watched, people to be greeted, beer to be consumed in a few hours.

Before that, must eat dead cow with parents.

Very rough being me.

But I really do think it's horribly, horribly hot today.

Thursday, July 03, 2003


This is where it gets interesting.

Only about 22 people showed up for "the deer meeting" Wednesday night, so let me say first thing that... 22 people doth not a majority make, except maybe in Riverside, which this ain't. So don't anybody go jumping to any conclusions just yet. Yes, there was one unanimous vote in the straw poll that ended the evening, but that doesn't mean I'm taking that as a mandate, okay?


Now is the time when everyone here in Saratoga needs to take a serious moment or two and ask one very simple question.

Is there truly a "deer problem" and, if so, is it really bad enough to warrant government action?

Or, to phrase it another way, is the deer problem really so bad, so threatening, that you are willing to give up some liberties in order to mitigate it?

My little rephrase there is deliberately provocative, because I think a lot of people, tend to forget what government intervention usually means. Passing new ordinances rarely happens in order to expand liberties, and even amending old ordinances historically tends to go in the direction of more, not less, regulation.

That good old, but persnickety, social contract at work.

That said, I did hear from a few people who do seem to think it's worth giving up your freedom to feed deer in order to avoid the harm they believe urban deer are currently causing, harm such as the following:

- One mother had a tale to tell of a buck menacing her little boy (though I later heard from another source a slightly revised version of her tale of woe, in which before the buck menaced the boy, the boy menaced the buck with a toy bow and arrow, or possibly a slingshot. I cannot verify this, of course, but it is a useful reminder that there usually are a few sides to every story and it's never wise to rely on one alone).

-Another resident lost her little dog to a deer attack a year ago and still misses the pup; I feel her pain. Thank god the Collie of Folly is a huge coward. But even that is no guarantee that she's never going to get stomped.

-And of course numerous people aired grievances about damage to their landscaping investments. Myself, I've given up on growing flowers or vegetables at Kate's Landing; living right by the river means living right on the migration route and thus that no matter what "gets done" there are going to be some long-legged critters who would find any plantings an inviting snack.

I was quite surprised to find that nobody who doesn't want the government to do anything, no "pro-deer" people were at that meeting. Now, I know from one-on-one conversations with some personal acquaintances that there are some people living in Saratoga who do like having the deer here and are willing to accept landscape losses and a certain whiff of danger as part of the price of co-existing with wildlife.

Since none of them were at this meeting, though, the consensus under which we worked was that urban deer are a very bad thing.

With that in mind, after briefings from our zoning officer, Superman, our police chief (so new he doesn't have a name yet), and our local Rabbit Sheriff (i.e. the game warden) on what is currently legal and possible,* the group assembled came up with four measures it considered worth pursuing as possible law, policy, or practice. One restricts liberty, one tampers with existing law at the cost of possibly inviting the government even further into the question of what is ugly and what isn't, and the third, the third looks kind of terribly, awesomely impractical if what the Rabbit Sheriff had to share is true.

They are, in order of preference:

1. A ban on feeding deer within the city limits, probably modeled after a measure just passed in Teton County - unanimous vote.**

I'm putting on my Carnac the Magnificent turban for a moment and predicting a proposal like this will bring out more conflict in Saratoga than anything has since the junk car ordinance that was the Lord Macklebrains' Waterloo. The people in town who feed deer like having deer in town. And they're not going to cotton to the notion that the enjoyment their neighbors' get from lilacs and roses is greater or more important than their own enjoyment of wildlife right outside their doors.

There is also, it occurs to me after a long night of writing about other problems for various publications, grant applications, etc., the very real possibility that a feeding ban might have the opposite effect. Isn't it just possible that your neighbors who are feeding the deer who have made Saratoga their permanent habitat are actually mitigating the damage to your shrubs and trees and flowers? Take away the cracked corn and whatnot, the deer still have to eat... what is left for them to eat?

Something to think about.

(And yes, I know, the practice of deer feeding is partially to blame for the very existence of the "welfare deer" (that's not mine; it's the Sewer King's phrase) (He gets amusingly bent out of shape when I use his schticks, no matter how many times I remind him of Oscar Wilde's dictum on the subject***) because it encouraged wintering deer to stick around all year. But that was then and this is now.)

2. Modifications to the town's zoning ordinance regarding fences. Specifically, allowing them to get taller or allowing a greater height of "see through" fence above the upper limit of six feet -- 19 people.

The Rabbit Sheriff had already shared with the group that he has watched deer and antelope easily jump fences that were eight feet tall, which calls the efficacy of taller fences into question right away, but hey.

The thing on which even the little group at town hall Wednesday night got hung up was the see-through part. What kind of fencing material is see-through? Hog fence, chicken wire, etc... stuff that is commonly thought of as "ugly." How far do we go with this? How tall?

Personal aside - there are at least two broad concepts that I really, really hate to see discussed when the topic of law- or policy-making: recreation, and aesthetics. It always makes my skin crawl when I realize I'm talking to people who think it's perfectly reasonable to ask the government to rule on what is beautiful or fun, which is what they're doing when they ask that tax dollars be spent on recreation programs (since there will never be enough money to fund everybody's idea equally) or that rules be made about what people can and can't do with their private property. It is the stuff of libertarian nightmares.

3. Asking our police department, on an individual or a general basis, to pack along paintball or pellet guns to scare off animals observed nibbling on landscaping should any be observed during the officers' regular patrols.

Police Chief No Nickname Yet (you know, I think I might keep that as his nickname. It's got a certain funky flair, don't you think?) wanted to make sure everybody understood that this would be a secondary duty at best.

This could evolve into another form of "house watch"; perhaps individual homeowners could leave open requests with the police department to please chase off deer seen in their yards – and the people who like the deer can leave well enough alone and not request this service.

4. Round 'em up and git 'em out of here - live trapping and transportation -- 9 people

Over the many years of my acquaintance with our local Rabbit Sheriff, the expression I have most often seen cross his face is one of stoic resignation. He had already outlined, very clearly and, I thought, convincingly, why this is a wildly impractical solution in terms of money and manpower – and how it's likely also an impermanent one – in his opening remarks.

He got a little more specific after this got brought up again by a deeply impassioned resident.

- Live trapping doesn't work that well. You can put the greatest bait in the world in the trap, but it's still an uninviting box. Given the choice between your prize rose bush and a box with some food in it, deer tend to choose your roses. And removing the current herd won't do anything to prevent future incursions – or returns.

- Tranquilizers are serious business. I didn't know this before last night, but the kind of dart they use against big game animals has its own triggering mechanism and it will spray its contents if triggered accidentally. Those who worry about deer maybe harming a child should, therefore, give equal consideration to the possibility of a little one picking up a stray dart and getting a face full of the chemical, which the Rabbit Sheriff says would probably be fatal to a child.

What happens next?

As I told the magnificent 22 at the close of the meeting, I'm not about to take just 22 people's opinions as a mandate for anything. To a certain degree, the fact that these are the people who felt strongly enough to actually show up and participate does carry some weight, but I know that once this stuff hits the newspaper next week people who weren't there are going to get indignant, one way or the other.

And anyway, it would be nice to have a larger sample of opinion on which to draw. I, at least, am always loth to mess with laws that have been more or less working for as long as I've been alive without a pretty strong sense that it's what this community wants; I'm pretty sure my colleagues feel more or less the same.


Come Monday, I'm going to have a few signature sheets available at town hall. One for and against the feeding ban, one for or against modifying the fence limits, one for or against a low level police property patrol, one for or against live trapping, and one for those of you who don't want the government to do a stinking thing.

If you have an opinion, and you want us to count it and take it seriously, you'll make this small effort to mosey down to town hall (hey, most of you have water bills to come pay, anyway) and at least sign your name.

In conclusion, I just want to pass on one plea the Rabbit Sheriff made. He has lots of information on planting strategies, techniques for discouraging wildlife foraging, and other stuff that is at least worth trying before any drastic steps are taking. Please contact him and give what he has to share a chance. A lot of research has gone into what he has to offer. There might be something in there you haven't tried yet that might help.

*I.E. - The current zoning code limits front yard fences to a height of 42 inches and backyard fences to six feet; it is legal to use pellet guns, BB guns, paintball guns, etc. but the projectile must remain on your own property, live trapping and transportation are incredibly costly both financially and in terms of manpower, BUT you can defend yourself against aggressive wildlife, just like you can against aggressive people; it's just like all self-defense cases, though: you'd better have a good story and some proof never hurts.

**Meaning 22 out of 22 people considered this a priority. There were actually 23 people there, but I didn't vote. I wasn't there to express my opinion, but to start getting an idea of yours; I don't think I was voted into office to impose my personal views on the town. I only do that in an absence of expressions of public opinion, i.e., when we give a public hearing on, say, an economic development grant application or the 2003-04 budget and none of you show up. When that happens, I take it to mean you trust us and all is well. What else can I assume?

*** "Immature artists borrow; mature artists steal."

Wednesday, July 02, 2003


As of this typing, I am less than four hours away from what could well be the greatest spectacle/debacle in Saratoga municipal political history since the junk car ordinance... or a whole lot of nothing.

We're going to talk about the much-bitched-about "deer problem" in Saratoga, yet another on a long list of "issues" by which my fellow citizens here feel uniquely plagued – though in fact, near as I can tell, it's a rare community indeed, large or small, that doesn't have deer nibbling at lilac bushes, pooping on lawns, blocking traffic at intersections, and taunting tied-up dogs. I recall a 60 Minutes peace on Long Island's "deer problem" a year or so ago. Inconclusive, as always.

If you're thinking I'm sort of dreading this, you're right.


When a resident starts righteously citing the "deer problem" as an excuse for building an illegally tall fence without bothering to get a variance or special use permit, and then demanding that the law be changed to suit said fence rather than the logical, ethical, defensible reverse, well... might as well just get it all out of everyone's systems, I'd say.

So, at 6 p.m. tonight, at the town hall, we'll be talking about it. I've got the local game warden coming, Superman the attack zoning officer will speak, and so will our police chief. Then I'm going to open it to the floor for suggestions.

I do hope, by the way, that those who allegedly like the deer – I'm told there are "more of these than I think" though no one ever owns up to it him- or herself, or will name anyone else's names – will also join us, as if there is an overwhelming consensus demanding that your local government "do something" then something will probably be "done."

But I've got to say, if Long Island, home to I'm-not-going-to-bother-to-research-how-many-times more people than the whole state of Wyoming, and attendantly greater budgets, resources, and pressure, couldn't find a way to control these long-legged rats, I'm not too optimistic that we will, either.

For now, though, in preparation, I'm going to take rare advantage of my hobo status... and take a power nap.

If any deer start to loiter, my neighbor's dog can keep them entertained (he, half labrador, half basset hound, barks comically at them while they stare, amused; Molly the Collie of Folly just sort of looks worriedly at them, and then hides under the car).

Monday, June 30, 2003


I bet not a one of you out there in LIANTland realized just how richly varied our complement of avian fauna really is.

Well, except those of you who join the Collie of Folly and me on our morning walks around Saratoga Lake, there to take in the antics of, in addition to two "water" dogs who swim about as well as muskoxen might, playful pelicans, ogling osprey, harrying hawks, and perplexed penguins...

Wait a minute, the alert LIANTling is probably saying to him- or herself, perhaps knocking over a cup of coffee in the rush to raise and shake that index finger of doubt at his or her computer screen – she didn't just say "penguins," did she?

Is our Humble Blogger finally, indeed, becoming a birdbrain?

Well, yes and no. You see, we've been seeing something odd on our morning perambulations this summer, and while I identified it straight off for what it actually is (Nycticorax nycticorax), my colleagues prefer to call them penguins. And indeed, despite the fact that they have long shorebird legs and have a tendency to appear up in the treetops, there is a certain superficial resemblance to, say, an adelie penguin (Pygocelis adeliae)when a specimen seen through binoculars held by an unsteady hand that has not yet received its daily infusion of caffeine.

What they are, in fact, is black crowned night herons (click on highlighted text for photos and other data). Sort of rolls off the tongue, doesn't it? Black crowned night herons. But even this highly descriptive name (much less mellifluous, though, than the Latin, don't you think?) does not convey the true drama, the true poetry of a morning encounter with them, at least as experienced with My Own Dear Personal Mom, my Kindergarten Teacher, and the Ambulatory Amateur Novelist herself (i.e. Famous Bill's wife). This trio, who like to pretend to be deeper in the throes of incipient biddy-dom than they really are, affect to be unable to remember this bird's common name without resorting to the sort of kinetic memory aid last observed in the efforts of, e.g., Simonides of Ceos, or possibly, more recently, the Village People. At any rate, the gestures they use to remember each word in order are not unlike those used to remember how to spell "YMCA."

Well, so, anyway, I certainly hope this clears things up for any of you who might come to town and find oneself baffled by references to "Platte Valley Penguins." We're really not trying to fool you.

We're just trying to distract you from seeing the jackalope nest on the other side of the lake. They're shy and unenthusiastic breeders, and our economy depends on them more and more each year.