The Age of Deer

Erika Howsare / Catapult / 368 pages

Erika Howsare worked in local journalism for 20 years and has written two books of poetry. She was raised in rural America in a family of avid hunters before heading off to Oberlin College and Brown University. Her new book, The Age of Deer: Trouble and Kinship with Our Wild Neighbors, is very much a product of her personal and professional history. 

The book is reflective, pondering, and exhaustively introspective. Howsare serves up extensive mythology and history and seemingly sought out every deer-related event, professional, or hobbyist she could find. She describes the horrors of chronic wasting disease, an insidious condition spread by deer farms that threatens to substantially diminish deer populations. She covers deer-vehicle collisions and talks to a man whose job is to remove the bodies and layer them in giant compost bins. She attends a New Jersey deer-culling where deer are lured by piles of bait; but she’s only allowed to see the aftermath, when the bodies are furtively dragged away under the cover of night.

Howsare explains how the public’s notion of a “natural” population level is premised on faulty ideas of ecological history and “balance of nature” fictions. However, she has a tendency to poeticize the gore and killing she observes, offering pseudo-profound musings on “paradoxical” types of love and “marriage to discomfort” in an effort, perhaps, to alleviate the cognitive dissonance. She admits to “feeling profoundly uninterested in” the veracity of claims made by an anti-cull activist she encounters, commenting dismissively on the satisfaction people derive from “feeling righteous.” 

Yet, in the end, Howsare expresses gratitude “that, after so many large animals have disappeared with the advance of human beings, there is still this one—an exquisite and mysterious creature—that I can see, often, in my Anthropocene life; one that despite our caricatures, remains a survivor, a supreme example of life among the ruins.”

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