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One day of coherence would be enough, one day of the simple and natural and timeless activity hunting surely must be. Not as a tool of the state to prevent overbrowse, not as an arm of the timber lobby, not as part of the team, not as a client, not as a poacher. I still don't know if hunting is for plain men to do any more. I make one last contact, with huge, castled, 28,000-acre Litchfield Park. And the answer surprisingly is, "Come on in."
Litchfield is sure it is right—on land, on timber, on wildlife, on recreation—and glad to have us know it. In the big new steel garage that services Liparco's green Brockway trucks and yellow Pettibone loaders, John Stock, the forest supervisor and a timber-tax expert, explains with the brevity and decision of a man to whom questions have answers:
"Timber growth in a year is about 60� an acre. Taxes are around $1.25. You can't grow timber profitably. That's one side. Then there are the deer. Studies show that if you have 40 deer per square mile, you get about 150 seedlings per acre of the kind that make good timber. If you have 20 deer per square mile, you get 14,000."
Liparco solves the dual problem of taxes and seedling survival by leasing about 18,000 acres to 15 small clubs. The rent helps to pay the taxes (until recently paid all the taxes), the hunting controls the deer population and all the year-round recreational benefits of ownership are extended to others, which is socially good, morally right and not bad PR. The deer harvest on Litchfield is currently eight times what it is on state land, and the bucks are very large and fat. There are about 10,000 acres the company doesn't lease and hardly anybody hunts. Be at the garage at seven sharp, and Stock will take me up on the mountain.
Somehow I've got to steady myself until dawn. I go over to Ray Brook to talk to state officials, to hear their side of the argument over the lack of deer. I might finally take sides, with the scientists or with the hunters. I have an idea who is right, but I don't like the idea. I know that the 19th century tradition of plenty is the obverse of an actual record of careless slaughter. Venison all year. Washtubs of trout.
The wildlife biologist dares to tell me that his name is Greenleaf Chase. I am sure that any policy he believes in is innocent and good. He admits to being an author of the policy of killing back the herd, and estimates that it was carried on about three years too long. The principle is right, however. Proof is that starvation in 1971-72 was worst on the large private tracts which were underhunted, and the recovery there is slowest. Kildare Club, for example: only 14 men hunting 9,000 acres and only two bucks killed so far this year.
The deer will come back. It takes time. The feed had to come back first. But each of the next few years there'll be more. The state game managers would like to educate us to accept killing does and bucks more equally. They would like us to give them the power to regulate the kill as state wildlife officials do in the West, in close local detail, by natural deer areas; even to provoke a harvest, in remote country, by incentives if necessary. It is still blurred for me. I think I see circles in the reasoning that are just about as Malthusian as nature's.
The whole mountain, down to the dark, still water of Jenkins Pond, is within cloud. The light changes eerily. Somewhere a Liparco generator is running—probably at that Bavarian farm with the gambrel roofs, hipped gables, bottoms buried in slopes, that suddenly appeared and vanished on the road in. Over the mountain to the north a chain saw makes long cuts.
Splendid brood trees—giant pines and hemlocks, birches 30 inches through—rule a forest of descendants. Their antiquity, and the deep green mosses, and the single boathouse on the two-mile pond, give this forest an air in common with the towered Litchfield castle somewhere farther in, its great hall full of mounted heads, and with the heroic sculptures of elk and deer on granite pedestals at the gates out near the highway. If a forest can seem gold-fobbed, embossed, this does.
I trust it is all in my mind. I'm alone on two square miles of perfect country. The single day ranges ahead, ample as an ocean. Somewhere near 10 o'clock (I don't wear a watch, the sun is lost and the light in the forest fluctuates mysteriously) I stand near one of the two tops of the 2,400-foot hill that shelters the pond on the north. A wind flows up through the dripping fog. Slowly I zip my jacket.