There was a time in my life when I believed deer to be regal, majestic creatures, meant to be revered on the rare occasion I spotted them frolicking in mountain meadows. Watching “Bambi” at the tender age of 4 endeared me to the species and also created some very real “I could lose my mom to a hunter” trauma to add to the rapidly growing list of other “I could lose a parent in this very specific way” traumas inflicted by Disney.

Then I grew up and developed a love for gardening. Not just for the fruits and vegetables reaped at the end of every summer, but for each step in the process — planting seeds or starter plants, watering religiously, pruning and fertilizing. I found so much satisfaction in nurturing the vegetation and watching it grow.

By the time we moved to a house at the base of a mountain, I considered myself practically a farmer after years of enjoying fresh tomato sandwiches and cucumber salads made with the produce I had raised. I filled my steel barrels with soil and got to work planting my favorite crops.

A few weeks later, I walked outside to find a trampled tomato plant with all the fruit, which had been nearly ripe the day before, missing. Confusion, sadness and horror struck my heart and rippled through my body. Who would do this? And why?

I asked a friend from the area what could have possibly happened. “Deer,” she immediately responded.

My long-held view that deer were angelic creatures with rich inner lives and friendships with skunks and bunnies crumbled. I realized that deer are not forest royalty, to be respected and protected. Disney had lied. Deer are invaders and thieves.

It wasn’t long before I saw the perpetrators roaming the neighborhood. They don’t even bother trying to be discreet. They shamelessly loiter in our suburban neighborhood, traveling in packs in broad daylight, immune to whatever natural instinct warns their rural cousins to avoid being seen or heard by humans. I spotted a full-grown buck with an impressive rack of antlers nibbling on my neighbor’s flowers at 10 a.m. I was appalled by the audacity. The arrogance of these hooved monsters, thinking they can just stroll through our yards, eating the fruits and flowers we’ve poured our hearts and souls into growing.

I would not let this stand. So I decided to seek revenge. Which I think is when my sanity started to slip.

Since 2021, I’ve spent an outsized portion of my time, energy and money plotting my defenses against the wily produce-nappers. That summer, I had to admit defeat. The deer had won the battle. But I would not let them win the war.

Wandering elk, bobcats on porches, and wily coyotes running in Rose Park
Utah enacts emergency feeding measures for deer in parts of northeast Utah

Last year I decided to rush the scientific method and test every deer-repelling hypothesis at once — blinking lights meant to imitate the eyes of natural predators, Irish Spring soap cut into chunks and scattered across the soil, repellent sprayed on the foliage and marigolds planted alongside the vegetables. I tried nearly every method the internet suggested with the exception of coyote urine because, much like Meatloaf would do anything for love but won’t do that, I would do anything to protect my zucchini plants but I won’t do that. (I also won’t take any lethal measures because if there’s one thing I want in my yard less than live deer it’s dead deer).

Results were mixed. Deer did seem to stay away. But I spent so much of my gardening energy on repelling my sworn enemies that I failed to properly care for my plants. Plus, because I tried every repellent method at once, I don’t know which one actually worked. Which I guess is why the scientific method is the way it is.

But this year. This will be my year.

My garden is planted. I’ve interspersed herbs with vegetable plants because, according to the internet, deer dislike the smell of herbs. I’ve added marigolds to the beds for the same reason. I’ve sprayed the first coat of Deer Out, a repellent that must be applied weekly. The blinking imitation predator eyes have been charged and strategically placed in the soil.

All told, I’ve spent over a hundred times what a bagful of produce would cost at the grocery store. But it’s not about the fruits and veggies anymore. It’s about my obsession with winning.

Approximately seven times a day I do a garden patrol, inspecting every plant for signs of nibbling. I’ve moved my laptop and monitor to the kitchen table so I can keep watch on the backyard through our sliding glass door while I work. I have become a woman wholly consumed.

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But if I’m being completely honest with myself, I fear the deer may have already won. While I might succeed in physically keeping them at bay, they’ve invaded my mind. They have taken what was once a calming ritual with multiple mental health benefits and turned it into complete paranoia. Clandestine government organizations only wish they had such effective psychological warfare tactics. Even if I reap a bounteous harvest this fall, I’ll worry about next year's garden and the garden the year after. I’m doomed to be in a constant state of defense against the deer who have taken up precious real estate in my brain.

I know the best thing for me would probably be to walk away and focus on some potted herbs indoors. Or to find another calming hobby altogether.

But I’m in too deep. I’ve spent too much, financially and emotionally, to give up now.

So I’m upping the number of garden patrols to eight a day. I’m arming my children with Super Soakers and assigning yard watch shifts. And I’m shopping for coyote urine. Turns out, I will do anything for victory. Even that.

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