'Attack deer' menaces peaceful mountain community


OLD TOWN – When friends from the flatlands ask what it’s like to live in upper Kyle Canyon at Mount Charleston, I just tell them it’s paradise.

It’s simpler that way.

They’d probably never believe the story about the attack deer, anyway.

Attack deer?

You heard right.

We’re talking Rambo with antlers and a cute little tale.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Now that the first frosty bite of fall is in the morning air here, it’s time to take stock the remarkably chaotic summer of 2013 in Kyle Canyon. The season saw fire and flood on the mountain.

All we lacked were locusts for a disaster of biblical proportions.

Not sure what the Good Book says about attack deer, but I’m sure they’re mentioned in there somewhere.

Before the deer came the fire. The July 4 holiday was approaching when a lightning strike near Carpenter Canyon started what would become known as the Carpenter 1 fire. Although a few structures were destroyed and nearly 28,000 acres of the Humboldt-Toiyabe National Forest were blackened, thanks to the efforts of more than 1,400 firefighters homes on the mountain were saved. It remains a stunningly beautiful place.

After the fire came the floods.

Summer storms dumped several inches of rain on the range in just a few days, and Kyle Canyon experienced substantial flooding. But, again, we were lucky. Washed-out roads can be replaced and, unlike the tragic flooding victims in Colorado, no lives were lost at Mount Charleston.

The fire also had an impact on wildlife in the Spring Mountains. Animals large and small were driven by the flames over the mountain and into Kyle Canyon, which was threatened but largely untouched thanks in great part to the work of hundreds of firefighters.

We’ve always had our share of birds, mule deer, coyotes, and foxes. Now we have them in greater abundance.

The deer are especially easy to spot, of course. They line up along State Route 157 like four-legged hitchhikers.

Which brings me to the attack deer.

On the way up the hill in our Subaru Forester recently, daughter Amelia and I were a couple miles from the house when it happened. Traveling at about 25 mph, we watched a young buck dart from left to right in front of us. We missed it, and I slowed down more.

But then a second buck, chasing the first, insisted on running into my front end. That’s right, it was the aggressor. It brushed past and threw a hip, taunting me and breaking my right headlight cover. At first I cringed. For a moment, I thought I’d killed it.

Then I realized the deer hadn’t even broken stride.

It sprinted after the other buck, up a side hill and into the trees.

That’s not the worst of it.

Two nights later, attack deer assaulted our garden and mauled our prized tomato plant.

Each spring, daughter Amelia and I plant a garden. We fill it with herbs and tomatoes, squash and potatoes. Although we sometimes endure frost in June, we cherish the digging and watering and planting experience and eventually harvest our share of veggies and cooking herbs such as oregano, sage, parsley, and basil.

This past spring we were blessed with an early break in the frost, and the garden managed to get through the Carpenter 1 fire without even being singed. Within weeks our tomatoes were popping and ripening by the day, and we were even able to grow a few of those baseball-sized beefsteaks that usually mature too slowly for our short season at 7,200 feet. By mid-July, the greenery was rolling along like something out of a magazine.

Yeah, a true-crime magazine.

Attack deer again. Tomatoes – even the unripe ones, eaten. Eggplant and peppers? Nothing but nubs.

We were devastated.

I reinforced fences and stayed up all hours to guard what remained of our once proud garden patch.

These days, a helicopter plows the sky over upper Kyle Canyon. It drops straw and other organic material in an effort to create mulch that will help preserve the soil and vegetation from further erosion.

But guess who just sniffs at the straw and eyes the last lithe limbs of our fledgling fruit trees with a lustful hunger?

That’s right.

The attack deer, damn their brown eyes and vegetarian ways.

Nevada native John L. Smith also writes a daily column for the Las Vegas Review-Journal. Contact him at 702 383-0295 or at jsmith@reviewjournal.com.