Sometimes you just see one. Sometimes you see a pair of them. Sometimes you see three or four about to cross the road, the one in the lead tentatively stepping out onto the road while the others trail behind.
Where do they go?
It is difficult to spot them at dusk as their colour seems to blend with the surroundings. Camouflage. Isn't that part of their survival? Better for them, perhaps, but not for the unobservant driver who is racing through a country road. And if they should make contact, then no one wins.
A few years ago, as I turned slowly at an intersection one early frosty morning on my way to work, taking care to drive carefully in the snow, I spotted a deer or two out of the corner of my eye. Then I saw him, a young buck, with his familiar antlers. It was still dark and there were no other cars around. I slowly came to a stop, not wanting to startle any of them. The young buck trotted forward a little and seemed to acknowledge me for a moment. I didn't say a word. He then turned away and I wondered where they were off to. When the snow fell, where did they take shelter? When I happened to see them sometimes, I actually watched them and wondered about it. It was a casual thought and for a moment, I was curious about the lives of these wild animals who roamed free.
No doubt there were those who regarded them as a nuisance and I also knew they were hunted for their meat or their hide or even as trophies. It was always a little disconcerting for me to enter a restaurant and see the huge heads of stuffed animals hung on the walls. It was a fact of life, after all, and people took pride in their sport. It wasn't something I understood - and would never understand - but who was I to say anything just because I bought my meat from the supermarket, all neatly and conveniently butchered and packaged.
I'd completely forgotten that we used to eat venison back home. If I remember correctly, it was quite tender and even delicious. When I was back home a few years ago for a visit, my mother bought dinner for the family which included a venison dish. It looked familiar enough and I reminded myself that I actually liked that very dish. I took one look at it and decided that I couldn't eat it. It felt wrong, somehow. And I knew very well that the more I thought about it, the more it would sicken me to eat it. There was no need to make a fuss; I merely chose not to eat that particular dish. And I haven't eaten venison to this very day.
Some people see them as a nuisance on the road. Others see them as prey to be hunted. It definitely was not a pleasant experience to hit a deer and the one time that we did, my husband was driving and it was early in the morning. Suddenly we saw a deer standing in the middle of the road. I think it tried to run away but there was that sickening thud just as the car swerved, trying to avoid hitting it. There was some damage to the car but not much, thank goodness. My husband got out of the car, looked back and told me that the deer was dead. I didn't dare look. I didn't want to look. It was a horrible experience. I was grateful that neither one of us was hurt but sitting there, beside him, I was angry and upset and sick. It all seemed so unnecessary. We weren't going that fast but neither were we moving at snail's pace. It was unavoidable, I suppose, an accident that happened early in the morning when it was still dark and our headlights warned us too late of what was ahead.
As strange or even silly, as this sounds, my heart goes out to the deer, especially the young ones - although it doesn't matter how old they are - who are unsure about crossing the road and sometimes hesitate. It pains me a little to see that for when I was a little girl - before I was five years old as that was when we still lived at the first house that I remembered - I was playing in the street. It wasn't a major street, no asphalt, it was still dirt and rock as far as I can remember. But it was a street that ran through that small neighbourhood. A car was coming through and for some reason, I ran out in front of it and I think I fell. It is a memory that isn't that strong but it is there. And now, as an adult, I know that I always check more than once before I cross the street, even in the countryside. For who knows when a vehicle might be turning round the corner at breakneck speed? It is good to be cautious but sometimes I was too cautious. I don't know why I have that memory or why it comes back to me every now and then. Did I run across to show off to the other children that I could make it to the other side before the car passed by? I don't know. It is strange. Or perhaps it was just a childish prank that I thought I could get away with but didn't.
So whenever I see a deer by the side of the road, I slow down, sometimes too quickly. And I understand their initial apprehension - if that is what it is - before stepping out onto the road and then go trotting off to the other side. I watch them as they cross. And I tell them to be safe.
There is something about their behaviour that reminds me of ... me. Not exactly, of course, but there is an innocence about them, and a naivete about the world around them, that I see in them. I could be entirely wrong about the whole thing but it doesn't really matter. And so, amazingly enough, or not so amazingly enough, I actually empathise with a deer. And no, it is not something I talk about. I would never dare talk about it. So I write about it instead.