How I Learned to Hate Autumn

I used to love the autumn.

For a good part of my adult life, I lived in New York City. Although New York has experienced hotter summers in recent years, the reality is that New York summers have always been unpleasant. Garbage strikes and subways cars without air conditioning made them worse, but they were never great. So I always looked forward to the fall and there were very few things I liked more than walking the streets of Greenwich Village, where we lived, on a crisp October night. But it wasn’t just that the weather was cooler. It was the overall feel of autumn and the energy that seemed to return to the city after three months of the city being “gone” in some bizarre way. Labor Day came, and my spirits used to pick up in an almost amazing way.

I no longer look forward to the autumn. In fact, I dread it.

Some years ago, we moved out of the city because we thought it was time to have a life that did not impose the opportunity costs that come with just about everything that you do in New York. Yes, it’s a great city. No argument there. But day to day life can grind you down unless you have domestic staff who do all of the things that normal people have to do. In any event, we decided that we wanted more space and what, for us, was a better quality of life.

So we found five glorious acres in an area that was set in the midst of some of the most beautiful countryside we had ever seen. We are surrounded by magnificent wildlife. We see birds regularly in our garden that I had never seen before except in books. We have all sorts animal neighbors in addition to the birds: ground hogs, rabbits, foxes, and deer.

Let me emphasize that although we live in area surrounded by beautiful countryside, we do not live in a rural area. On the contrary, we live in an area that is something between a suburban development and the country. We have neighbors and, although we all have wells and septic tanks, we are only minutes away from a shopping center — three actually.

So we thought we had found the best of both worlds. And I was really looking forward to autumn in a place where we had more trees on our property than I had seen in the whole of New York outside of Central Park. The show of colors was breathtaking.

And then I learned that other people loved the autumn as well: the hunters who descended upon the area to kill the deer. Guns are not permitted because, after all, there are lots of humans around here, and guns would be dangerous. So hunters use bow and arrow. When the arrow hits a deer, the tip of the arrow throws out little anchoring blades that prevent the deer from removing the arrow by brushing against a tree or the wall of a garage or other building. Many deer hit with an arrow do not die quickly. Some are wounded and then the hunter slits their neck with a knife.

Some deer who are injured are never retrieved. On a number of occasions, we have seen wounded deer. We are unable to help because, although the deer are actually fairly tame and, while keeping their distance, will nibble at grass knowing that you’re not far, they become terrified when they are injured. And, even if you were willing to pay the expense, you could not get a veterinarian to help because the local vets are prohibited from dealing with “game” and wild animals. One year, there was a wounded deer in our woods. We were told to call the state game commission. We did. They got back to us three weeks later.

The hunters are supposed to have the permission of the landowner before entering on the land but that is a rule observed largely in the breach. “No trespassing” signs are routinely ignored. Although most (not all) hunters will leave if you see them on your land and ask them, you need to be monitoring your land constantly. The bottom line is that if you don’t want to have hunters on your property, you are often made to feel uncomfortable. Over the years, we have had some very unpleasant experiences with hunters when we found them on our property and said that we did not want them there.

Don’t misunderstand me. I am not saying that the hunters are any worse as a moral matter from those of us who go to the store and buy dead animals in plastic packages. Not at all. For this very reason, I have been a vegan for almost 40 years. I do not think you can justify killing another sentient being, particularly when your only justification is that you like the taste of their bodies. There is certainly no need to eat animal products. In fact, a growing number of mainstream health professionals are saying that eating plants is a much healthier thing to do. In any event, it’s certainly not necessary to eat animal products for optimal health so I cannot justify the killing — whether by hunters or commercial food companies.

And we should also be clear that the myth that hunting is necessary in order to do “humane” population control is just that — a myth. Apart from the fact that many state game commissions have policies that maximize numbers of “game” animals, the population will stabilize depending on the food supply available.

One of the does who spends a lot of time in our woods had twins. Her twins are exuberant little characters who spend hours playing while mom watches on. Three weeks ago, one of the twins got stuck in a neighbor’s fence and was crying loudly. The neighbor was away and we rushed over to get her out. She ran off and rejoined her mom and sister. Later, all three were grazing peacefully in our back garden.

And soon, it will start again. From now until the end of January, with time off between Thanksgiving and Christmas, the hunters will be in the woods. The deer will be terrified throughout this period and will stay hunkered down for the most part except when they try to find food or get water by the little creek — where the hunters put their tree stands. When you do see them, they behave nothing like how they did before the woods became a place of slaughter. They are skittish and scared. More of them will be hit by cars as they run into the roads in order to get away from human predators.

The twins will probably lose their mom and we’ll never again see them play with the joy that they exhibited this summer. There are other deer who live on our property and many of them will be killed as well. There will be more fawns in the spring and we will love seeing them play and we will welcome their visits with their moms. But, when Labor Day comes around next year, I will feel that dread that I have now learned to feel whenever I think about the autumn.

And I know full well that, when I lived in New York, I was surrounded by many dead animals. Our loft was not all that far from the meat markets on Little West 12th Street. And, although I never ate any of those animals either, I did not know any of them personally. I know these animals. They are neighbors.

I saw the twins this morning. They were standing about 20 feet away when I opened the garage door. They were scampering back and forth across the lawn. The hardly paid attention to me; they looked at me and then went back to playing. As I watched them, I thought that all of this is going to end very shortly, and they won’t be playing any more. They will be hiding in terror.

Sometimes, I find myself having fond memories of hot subway cars in August.

Gary L. Francione is Board of Governors Distinguished Professor of Law at Rutgers University and Visiting Professor of Philosophy at the University of Lincoln.

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