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Deer hunt



I had just breakfasted on the only dependably authentic bagel in Chapel Hill (boiled per the age-old recipe, not some tepid dough-ring pretender), so I'll admit I was in a sort of reverie. The dueling sensations of digestion and the glide down Weaver Dairy combined for a subtly exquisite moment in my rain-beaded cocoon. Righteous baked goods have a way of leavening the tedium of chores like bringing the car in for inspection. And with Bob Dylan singing "Farewell Angelina," I was enjoying myself much more than I had any right to.

I can still see its face, or I should say his face, because I feel certain it was a male—a buck. And because the day was gray and the deer was gray and so was the asphalt, I didn't see his face till he was right there, frozen for an instant where I was expecting to see more road. His eyes were Xs, like in the Nirvana happy-face T-shirt. The bump our collision made was a 400-pounds-meets-2,000-pounds-traveling-at-35-miles-per-hour bump. A person would have flown in the air; he bounced back onto the road and out of my path in a second or so.

The mind does impressive things, reacting in appropriate ways (you slow down) while performing frantic mental triage: Is it dead? It has to be dead. What if it's not dead? You should stop. And do what—mouth to mouth?

I kept driving and made it to my appointment more or less on time. I got out and inspected the damage: hood rumpled, fender bent and a Jakob Dylan (automotive slang for smashed driver's-side headlight). Of course, now the inspection was off, but I was eager to talk.

"I just hit a deer on the way over," I told the man.

"Just now?"

"Just now. On Weaver Dairy."

"You all right?"

"I'm all right. I mean, it's raining, and just suddenly, there he was. I mean, it's kind of weird. I just killed something."

He kind of chuckled. "Ah, well, just be glad you're all right. I've known people who've gotten badly hurt. The windshield breaks. It can really mess you up. I wouldn't feel too bad about it. I mean, damn things just run right out there...," he said, giving me a sort of they-deserve-it look.

Cold comfort: In recent decades, deer have come to be seen as just another suburban nuisance. In my youth in New Jersey, it was just chipmunks, squirrels, sparrows, blue jays and robins. To me, then, deer are still like unicorns. When I see them traipse through our woods, the buck followed by doe followed by a few gangly youths, I see a tableaux of family.

Daddy deer didn't come home that night, or was it Mommy deer? I don't remember antlers, but I can't say for sure. It's safe to say that whichever it was that fled across the road in the rain and into my path was having a crazy day in a suburbia he never anticipated. He crossed at the wrong time. I told myself that the deer died quickly, perhaps even on impact. And then, colliding with the road—there's no way he could have survived that. It was quick.

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