Who made the whitetail?

Whitetail doe.jpg

Once, while my wife, Debbie, was working as a National Park ranger in the Great Smoky Mountains, a boy on one of her programs asked her, "Who made the mountains?" Before Debbie could offer a thoughtful answer, the young man's father jumped in. "God made the mountains," he said. The boy grew quiet.

A little farther along, the boy asked Debbie another question. He gestured toward beautiful tall grasses, standing radiant in the sunshine. "Who made the grass?" he asked. Before Debbie could reply, the boy's father spoke again. His answer was the same.

The boy asked no more questions after that.

A few days ago, looking admiringly at a whitetail deer standing beside a road (the same deer shown in the accompanying photo), I found myself wondering along the same lines as the boy on Debbie's program. "Who made the whitetail?" I wondered.

It's not my business to evaluate the answers volunteered by a father to his son in the Smokies, but in the case of the whitetail, I'm inclined to answer in less cut and dried fashion. Most immediately, the whitetail I found so beautiful was created by its parents. A buck deer with antlers on his head mated with that doe's mother, herself a doe, likely in November. And together they produced the fawn that grew to be the handsome doe.

Who gave the deer its big wide eyes, its long pert ears, its sleek well-muscled torso, and its long powerful legs capable of great leaps and speed? I'm inclined to credit the deer's predators. Wolves, coyotes, bobcats, hungry humans, and in former times saber-toothed cats and dire wolves helped shaped the deer's ancestors. Surely there were other predators, too. In their pursuit of the animal's forebears, they helped favor the spread of the genes that produced the features we admire in the deer today.

And so, whenever we're tempted to recoil in horror at the thought of beautiful deer being stalked and brought down by predators, our own species included, it's worth remembering that without those predators, there would be no deer, or at least no deer resembling the gorgeous animals that roam our woods and fields today.