By Henry Lane Hull
With the onset of deer hunting season I am thinking of my friend, the late Dan Whittaker, who lived at Mila, not far from the old steamboat wharf. He spent his career as a carpenter, building, enlarging and remodeling many of the houses of Lancaster and Northumberland counties. In his spare time he and his son, Earl, grew one of the largest vegetable gardens in the Northern Neck at what had been his grandfather’s farm near Lancaster Courthouse.
He sold none of his produce, rather enjoying giving it to both friends and unknowns along his way home. Indeed, that is how we first met him, when he drove into our driveway with the back of his pickup filled to overflowing with what he had picked that afternoon. He unloaded a bushel full of vegetables, saying, “The Good Book says to feed the poor and here I am.” In hunting season he was in the field, always anxious to get his first deer, which he butchered himself and stored in the freezer to be available throughout the year.
One year when he was in the woods he came across a newborn baby deer whose mother had been killed. Knowing that the deer could not survive on its own, he brought it home with him, thus beginning a saga that lasted several years. His real-life “Bambi” was a buck and he named him “Man.”
Man became a celebrity in Mila Neck. He grew up as a pet, first nursing out of Dan’s hand and then being fed as one would feed a dog or cat. When Dan approached, Man came running, obviously looking for his meal, but also eager to express his appreciation and affection. He also became friends with Dan’s yellow lab, Beige, who was a household pet and not a dog who hunted.
As he matured, Man needed space to romp in the fields and woods, and in the process to meet some attractive does. Dan let him loose and he would come back. The game warden did not intervene as long as Man was free to go and come as he wished. Ultimately, I suppose he met the doe of his dreams and he left, that time not returning. All these years later, he remains a part of the lore of the area and probably the progenitor of many of the deer at play in the fields today.
Up in the village of Wicomico Church, the late Genie Forrester raised chickens and sold eggs to the local community. He built hotel-level accommodations for his hens and enclosed a large tract of his back yard for their exercise requirements. One year, three Canada geese, on their migration, I do not know whether north or south, decided to land and enjoy some of Genie’s chickens’ corn.
They found the setting ideal to the extent that they decided not to leave. As time passed they remained and lived out their lives in Genie’s back yard. One had been wounded and probably was happy not to have to fly in its disabled condition and the other two likely decided they knew a good thing when they saw it.
Again the game warden stopped to inspect and told Genie they could stay, provided that they were not enclosed and could leave when they wanted. For their part, the geese never wanted to go and were permanent fixtures in his pen, next to the road where passersby could see them comfortably ensconced. After all, why should they have chosen to fly a thousand miles competing with others in their gaggle for available food when they could get personalized meals served in downtown Wicomico Church? In their behavior pattern they confirmed my long held psychoanalytical observation that geese are highly intelligent animals.
Some might contend that Man and Genie’s geese were aberrations in nature. I always have thought that they recognized a good deal when they saw it, and chose to exercise their freedom to stay and enjoy it.