[ ECOLOGICAL ETYMOLOGIST ]
Dear E.E. It seems like the names for baby animals
in most species overlap – tigers, walruses, bears all
have cubs; moose, cows, elephants all have calves.
But as far as I can tell, fawns is reserved just for
baby deer. Why do they get a special name?
It does seem that the other babies are getting shortchanged by their
generic names, doesn’t it? But at least the names all have different
backstories. Calf comes to us from the proto-Germanic kalbam; cub
may come from the Old Irish cuib or the Old Norse kobbi, though we
don’t know for sure. These three ethnicities, of course, made up the
population of the British Isles for so long that it’s no wonder their
common words linger.
Puppy and kitten, two other generic names, both come from French
(poupée meant doll, while chaton meant little cat). And as the English
and French fought for centuries over borders, royal families, and – yes
– language, it also makes sense that their common words came to
displace the older whelp.
But fawn is different. It comes from the Latin fetus, which did not
mean an unborn child, but the bringing forth of life or suckling. From
its root, fe, we inherit a variety of loosely related words, including
female, feminine, fecund, fertile, fellatio, felicity, and even fennel,
which once meant hay.
For a little while, fawns were simply baby animals, and it might
have stayed that way if it weren’t for a poet who, I suspect, changed
the way we think of the word. In 1369, Chaucer wrote The Death of
Blanche in memory of the duchess of Lancaster. In it, he describes
a poet walking through a fertile wood, overcome by its beauty.
He finds many animals, but it is the deer, which meant so much
to the English nobility, that he describes in loving detail. The hart
and hind, the bucks and does, and, yes, fawns. He could have
called the young deer calves, but he needed a word
that brought fertility and life to mind in contrast
with the sorrow of the duchess’s death. The poem
was a hit. Parts of it reappeared in The Canterbury
Tales. Both works are studied to this day, and it
seems that fawn has
been associated with
deer ever since.
around their house and about an acre of water.
Their woodlot is made up mostly of hard maple, red oak, white ash, yellow
birch, and black cherry. Hemlocks and other conifers make up the remaining
15 to 20 percent. “Some years they have some commercial value, and other
years they have none,” she says of the evergreens. “They always have
ecological value, though.”
Such a large, unbroken landscape naturally supports a wide variety of flora
and fauna. “I saw a momma bear the other day and two cubs,” she said.
Sydney and Evon manage their forestland primarily for sustainable hardwood timber production, with indirect benefits to the environment and wildlife, she said. As part of harvests, the tops and unmarketable portions of trees
are left on the forest floor to protect regeneration from deer browse, provide
wildlife habitat, and replenish soil nutrients as they decay, she added.
Both Sydney and Evon are Master Forest Owners, having completed the
required training through Cornell University. Working closely with a consulting
forester, they developed a management plan that guides their forestry
activities. The plan makes them eligible for 480-a, New York’s current use
program, and also serves as the basis for their certification in the American
Tree Farm System.
“New York State encourages better management of forest land,” Sydney
added. “The forest is healthier as a result. You get better production because
the forest land is properly managed, and there’s less negative environmental
impact such as soil erosion and sedimentation caused from stormwater
Her mother also managed the property for timber, as far back as 1961.
“With multigenerational stewardship and installation of best management
practices for erosion control, particularly given the steepness of the terrain,
there was very little loss when Hurricane Irene hit in August 2011,” she said.
“We had minimal damage to the interior logging roads. However, our
right-of-way, which provides the only access to the property and serves
as the haul road for logging operations, did not fare as well, in spite of our
efforts. The enormous water volume breached our bridge at the confluence
of two intermittent streams and severely undermined the roadway. After
the repairs were completed, we were able to obtain partial reimbursement
through the Emergency Forest Restoration Program, administered by the U.S.
Department of Agriculture. Because we had such good management, we
didn’t lose as many trees as some people did. DEC was pleased with what
they saw,” she said.
Glenn Rosenholm writes a series called “Profiles in Conservation” for the
U.S. Forest Service, Northeastern Area, State and Private Forestry. Northern
Woodlands’ “Stewardship Story” series is sponsored by the Stifler Family
Foundation, in support of forestry practices that promote healthy and
sustainable forests and wildlife habitat. Sydney Antonio and her family on their property in Haines Falls, New York.