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Heart and Blood: Living with Deer in America

Heart and Blood: Living with Deer in America

by Richard Nelson

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"When it comes to deer, wildness is the greatest truth. And tameness is a tender, innocent lie."  So writes Richard Nelson, award-winning author of The Island Within, in this far-ranging and deeply personal look at our complex relationship with this most beautiful, but amazingly elusive, creature.Heart and Blood: Living with Deer in


"When it comes to deer, wildness is the greatest truth. And tameness is a tender, innocent lie."  So writes Richard Nelson, award-winning author of The Island Within, in this far-ranging and deeply personal look at our complex relationship with this most beautiful, but amazingly elusive, creature.Heart and Blood: Living with Deer in America  begins with the author tracking a deer on a remote island off the Alaskan coast. From there he takes us on a kaleidoscopic journey, visiting such disparate territories of the deer as a hunting ranch in Texas; a state park in California; a Wisconsin forest on opening day of the hunting season; Fire Island, New York; and the suburbs of Denver--where the deer have become so numerous that they pose hazards to landscape, motorist, and pedestrian alike.

Nelson examines the physiology of the deer, explaining how its unique digestive system and grazing habits have enabled it to thrive in the varied environments of the United States, whether wild, suburban, or urban. He investigates the different methods of controlling the deer's skyrocketing numbers, from the more "humane  methods of relocation and sterilization, to hunting--in all its forms. Nelson also explores the role of the deer in traditional Native American life, takes us with him on a hunt, and awes us as he witnesses the birth of a fawn--an event rarely seen by humans.

By the end of this journey we understand the deep reverence in which the author holds this magnificent animal. For to know the deer is to glimpse the hidden heart of wildness itself. In Heart and Blood, Richard Nelson has produced a book of outstanding insight and intelligence that brings us closer to our natural world and, in the process, closer to our own true nature

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly - Publisher's Weekly
In 10 reflective chapters, Nelson, a cultural anthropologist and naturalist living in rural Alaska, delivers an effective paean to the animals he loves and knows so welland in so doing illuminates a great deal about the humans who thrill to see, study, hunt and eat these creatures. As cervine numbers have exploded in recent decades, deer-related problems (including automobile accidents and agricultural losses) and debates over how best to stabilize deer populations have escalated as well. By sensitively describing disparate case studies from Angel Island in San Francisco Bay to New York's Fire Island and points in between, Nelson (Shadow of the Hunter) demonstrates that local politics as much as biology will determine strategies, and that there are no quick fixes. He also passionately recaps the first day of hunting season in Wisconsin, participating in the hunt one year while joining an anti-hunting group the next. His description of his solitary hunt on an isolated Alaskan island as well as his astonishing luck in watching a wild fawn being born are drawn with insight and craft. Episodes like these serve to highlight the predicament that runs through the whole of this absorbing meditation: "Perhaps only a person who hunts can penetrate the seeming paradox of loving a creature that you also stalk and kill and eat." Drawings. (Oct.)
Library Journal
Cultural anthropologist Nelson explores the relationship between human and deer (white-tailed, black-tailed, and mule) in this well-researched, beautifully descriptive work. Using information gleaned from books and journal articles and interviews with scientists, farmers, ranchers, and homeowners (cited in an extensive bibliographic essay), Nelson first describes the life cycle of deer. The majority of the book explains the causes of deer overpopulation and its effects on the ecology of natural areas, agriculture, and urban and suburban homeowners. He discusses alternatives to culling the herds but concedes that hunting is the most humane, cost-effective method of reducing the deer population. He sensitively presents the views of both hunters and antihunter activists. Nelson lyrically describes his pleasure from observing and hunting deer; his obvious reverence for them will appeal to those who enjoy natural history as well as those who hunt.Sue O'Brien, Downers Grove P.L., Ill.
Cultural anthropologist Nelson looks at the ways in which people live with deer in the US. He addresses recent conflicts over deer in the suburbs, nature preserves, farmlands, and ranch country, as well as debates about plans to control, reduce, or limit the number of deer, and controversies over hunting. He also discusses the physiology of the deer, its grazing habits, and its role in traditional Native American life. He includes a bibliographic essay and a resource list. Annotation c. by Book News, Inc., Portland, Or.
Fascinating . . . passionate . . . a complex, valuable, ultimately persuasive book.
Robert Finch
. . .[A] brave and beautifully rendered work. -- The New York Times Book Review
Kirkus Reviews
Close encounters with Cervidae, from soup to nuts, biological to behavioral to metaphysical, by Nelson (The Island Within, 1989).

"I'm not sure when I became obsessed with deer," Nelson admits, but obsessed he is. And he was interested, as a cultural anthropologist, in how the rest of America related to the burgeoning number of deer, so he set out to take their measure in the modern landscape. What he found was not particularly earth- shaking: Some folks love them, some hate them, each and every one has familiar points to make: Deer are sentient beings possessed of grace, loveliness, and innocence, and they ought to be left alone; deer are pests whose overpopulation has led to crop destruction, the jeopardization of rare plant species, not to mention the occasional human erased when 250 pounds of venison come through the windshield, and they ought to be deeply culled. Nelson gives all points of view a fair hearing. Though he is often content to commune with whitetails and blacktails and mules on an unthreatening eyeball-to-eyeball level, he makes it clear he is also a subsistence hunter. After making the case for hunt saboteurs (folks who sally forth to thwart the hunting crowd), he takes a strong pro-hunt position, albeit a rarefied one: He exhorts hunters to treat their quarry with humility and respect; to hunt with skill, knowledge, ethics, and judgment, as Nelson learned while living with Inupiaq Eskimos and Koyukon Indians—the consequences will reverberate beneficially throughout the soul of the community. Nelson's writing can be painfully sentimental ("Lovely deer, you are always in my heart, dancing down the dawn into the light") and his landscapes overly detailed, yet he can also be crisp and succinct, his arguments cogently tendered.

A compelling, multifaceted, and broadly curious portrait of the deer among us.

Product Details

Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group
Publication date:
Vintage Departures Series
Product dimensions:
5.20(w) x 7.94(h) x 0.85(d)

Meet the Author

Richard Nelson is a cultural anthropologist whose previous books include Shadow of the Hunter, Hunters of the Northern Forest, Hunters of the Northern Ice, Make Prayers to the Raven, and The Island Within, for which he won the John Burroughs Medal for outstanding natural history writing. He is also a winner of the Lannan Literary Award for Nonfiction.

From the Hardcover edition.

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