A Deer on the Sidewalk (Or, Wisdom Against the Odds)

Driving through the streets of Poughkeepsie when I left work at the unusually early hour of one o’clock, I became the first in a long line of cars to stop for a buck casually prancing across College Avenue. This regal creature only seemed vaguely aware that his four antlers were no defense against the four wheeled beasts barreling towards him.

Here was an animal so out of his element, his dark coat no camouflage against the yellow lines down the middle of the road, his forest wisdom so easily lost in the cracks in the pavement. At the same time, since we find ourselves in the middle of the New York hunting season, he was a clever lad, testing his luck against the visible rush of oncoming traffic rather than the more clandestine attack of flying bullets.

For these weeks when guns and bows rule the woods, the deer’s natural habitat becomes a house of danger, and he must risk these ever closer brushes with humanity. The world is turned upside down as home and safety must be traded for an unknown civilization that plays by mysterious rules.

I cannot help but think of those moments in life when the foundations shift, when people who promise to always be there end up following a divergent path, when the plans that were meant to offer a secure future refuse to materialize, when the homes we have created for ourselves cannot be a refuge.

This deer could have panicked in the face of suburbia and left hoof prints on the hoods of the parked SUVs (I am working this metaphor based on the belief that he is not some cervine street rat, fat from the neighborhood petunias). Instead he crossed the road to munch another house’s shrubbery and was not shaken by the passing cars. Adaptability was the secret of his survival (at least on this particular Thursday afternoon). He was willing to brave unknown dangers in order to increase his changes of surviving against forces that would almost certainly be his doom.

Though a brief emotional bust-up this week threatened to upset this castle of peace and equanimity that I have been blessed enough to construct, I am still fortunate enough to be free of those dreaded calamities that drive us from our places of comfort. Still, I want to learn from this beautiful animal what it is to walk through unfamiliar territory with proud head held high, maintaining essential poise even when nothing is working as it should.

4 thoughts on “A Deer on the Sidewalk (Or, Wisdom Against the Odds)

  1. Quiet November 23, 2008 / 1:23 pm

    This post brought tears to my eyes. Firstly, I wonder whether hunting in this day and age can ever be justified. Secondly, the encroachment of modern urban life on the natural environment means that many species are now threatened. Thirdly, climate change now drives animals to the fringes of urban life because the foods they need are harder to come by. All of that is the case here

    But still, your observations of the dignity and courage of the buck when things are not going as they should are beautiful. Have you seen the film “Queen” with Helen Mirren? There is a wonderful moment in that when the Queen comes eye-to-eye with a majestic buck and there is immediate understanding – one monarch to another. She saves him from the hunting guns of other members of her family only to hear later that he was shot by a visiting American huntsman in a nearby property. She makes a point of visiting the buck. A marvellous film on a number of fronts.

  2. Mish November 23, 2008 / 2:20 pm

    You may be in fawn stage and stumbling a bit, but from what I sense you are warm, compassionate, and a gentle healer. Such is deer medicine.

    Beautiful post. It brings to mind a friend, who for most of his life, nothing was as it should be. He survived trials and new territory. The stag has earned his antlers and wears them proudly.

    On another note, I went to school in New Paltz so used to spend quite a bit of time across the river.

    Touching on what Quiet said, when living in the Philippines it was a common sight to see natives with bows. When locals can get game without a scope or guns, they’ll have the respect that I have for the Aeta hunters.

    Quiet, the film has been noted. Thank you.

  3. girlwhocriedepiphany November 24, 2008 / 8:12 am

    Dear Quiet,
    I had not thought of that scene from The Queen in a long time – thank you for bringing back the memory for me. What a powerful image that offers us all…

    That enormous question of the morality of hunting bears heavily on my mind. We live in an area that seems to have equal numbers of hunters and organic farms and it is interesting how we all tend to get along. When I get scared by a family of deer darting in front of my car on a dark, winding road, I almost believe in “population control” but then I have to remember that this world does not belong to us and that the safety of my front fender is not worth a fellow creature’s life.

    Dear Mish,
    I do feel a bit like the fawn, but the sort with all these grand ambitions of how great a set of antlers I might be able to carry. Sometimes I think I should just focus on the sureness of my first steps through the forest!

    We actually live in New Paltz! I am an ocean girl, but have really managed to fall in love with Mohonk and Minnewaska and all the rest. We can actually see the tower from the kitchen of our new house. Did you like living here?

    Blessings and thanks to you both.

  4. Mish November 24, 2008 / 11:51 am

    *chuckles* I often compare myself to a month old colt, stumbling and awkward while figuring how to get its legs to work properly.

    I loved New Paltz! It remains one of my favorite rest stops. Why eat from Roy Rogers when I can get good stuff from Blue Moon Café? I grew up with the ocean, but as long as I can live by lakes or rivers I’m happy. I do miss the salt and waves though.

    Bright blessings.

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