The dog erupted in loud barking at 3:30 in the morning, her booming voice catapulting us into consciousness. She ran out of our bedroom and down the stairs to the back door. The Mister eased out of bed and staggered down after her, hooked her to a leash in case the object of her commotion was a skunk, and accompanied her out onto the edge of the deck.
They returned a few minutes later. The Mister told me later that Honey had been all keyed up and straining at the leash, but he hadn’t seen anything and assumed she had awoken to the sound of coyotes howling.
But back up in the bedroom, he saw headlights shining through the blinds, and we heard the sound of human voices.
We darted to the window. There were two cars along the shoulder of the road at the south end of our pasture, flashers on.
The Mister guessed one of the cars must have hit a deer. I lifted the sash so I could listen, and tried to shoosh Honey as she skittered around the room in a flurry of muffled barks and growls. I heard isolated words and sentence fragments. “…three of them…one hit the fence…turned around…”
We conjectured that the impact as the first vehicle hit the deer must have been what woke Honey up, and we didn’t hear voices until someone else stopped a minute or so later.
It wasn’t long before we saw flashing blue lights pull up to the scene. More voices. A query as to whether the animal was dead.
A gunshot roared out in the darkness, close enough to where I crouched at the window screen that I was sure I could smell it. Honey, terrified of guns, cowered on the opposite side of the room.
We watched the goings-on for a few minutes before turning away and crawling back into bed.
“I think he said there were three of them,” I said to The Mister. “Two hit the fence and one turned back into the road.”
“Crossing the road and headed into our pasture, must have been,” he said.
“It was one of our deer, then.”
Melancholy hung in the air between us, thick and unspoken.
“You’ll have to go check that fence tomorrow,” I said presently. “Make sure there’s no damage.”
In the morning, I couldn’t keep myself from casting long looks out the kitchen window at the place where the drama had unfolded in the darkness. The pavement was stained with a big dark red splotch.
Later, crows gathered at the site, and I felt resentful of their presence. I wanted to go out and shout at them to get away! Have some respect!
They were just doing what crows do, though. Doing their job, being crows. Just like the law enforcement officer and the late-night driver were doing theirs, doing what they had to do.
People hit wildlife on roads all the time. In this case, everyone drove off, so I guessed there had not been much damage to people or cars. The animal didn’t suffer long before being humanely dispatched, either. It could have been a much worse outcome.
They are not our deer, of course. But they are the creatures with whom we share our land, the ones for whom we cross our fingers and hope they prevail when we see their tracks mingling with those of coyotes. The ones we feel strangely protective of and at the same time held accountable to for our actions, even though we know the deer neither rely on us or hold us liable. We feel a connection, nonetheless.
That is not to say we are opposed to hunting or would dismiss out of hand any requests to hunt on our land. We are not, and we don’t.
I batted away thoughts of how the deer was traveling along with its family and made that sudden fatal error in judgment, and just like that it was gone. I told myself not to over-anthropomorphize by considering the grief of the other two animals. I held my chin up and went about my own business.
I am fortunate to live as close to the natural world as I do, but with that privilege comes the burden of occasional sorrow.
Honey and The Mister and I will recover. The fence is only slightly bowed, insurance will pay for the vehicle damage, and the deer meat will put food on somebody’s table. I expect too that the other deer will continue their lives, foraging for sustenance and escaping danger as best they can.
But for a few moments as the lights flashed and the shot reverberated and the road ran red, we all paused to embrace the sanctity of life.