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Fawns and farm animals

August 25, 2011

There was a tent at the Wayne County Fair off on a side alley where kids could pet and feed little deer fawns for three dollars. You could purchase a photo of your child with the fawns for $10 or pay extra to go in to take a photo with your own camera. It was a popular tent. Mostly the clientele was toddlers with their mothers. Babies petting babies.

“That’s just wrong,” my teenage son said, peering over the lattice-covered sides of the tent, when his eight-year-old sister went in. No doubt he was thinking of the wild, white-tailed deer fawns we have seen this summer. This year there is a pair of twins with their mother along the Klondike Road near our home. Maybe he was thinking of the slogan: “If you care, leave them there”—an admonishment to discourage people from removing wild fawns from their locale even if it appears that they may be orphaned or abandoned.

The pay-to-pet fawns made me feel uncomfortable too, even though I knew these babies weren’t truly wild deer. I was unsettled in my own confusion over the manipulation of wild vs. tame—my own uncertainty with the meaning of a “real” experience vs. a “thrill.” And then there was my uneasy allure at seeing my pretty, long-legged little daughter sitting with these ethereal fawns in the midst of a muddy, noisy carnival.

She examined their tiny hooves and delicate ankles and quietly talked to each one. And they were beautiful. “When do you get to pet a fawn in your life?” my daughter remarked when she came out of the tent. It was a question that seemed both innocent and jaded at the same time.

Perhaps, I thought, it’s like visiting Niagara Falls: the living, natural power of the falls remains , despite all the gaudy tourist attractions that surround them. (The Ripley’s Believe It or Not Museum remains foremost in my mind.)

At the Wayne County Fair, we also visited the animal barns—where I am reminded each year of my own disinterest in farm animals. Just looking at them and all the work involved in caring for them and in exhibiting them makes me feel tired. Sometimes it turns out that way when you grow up on a farm as I did. And sometimes it turns out the other way, and you see generations of the same family showing their animals, keeping their farms going.

Farm families naturally have a different attitude toward animals—a more practical and unsentimental view, since those animals are part of their livelihood. My own kids are more accustomed to having pets which is, of course, a different experience.