The Deer and I

by Kathy Handyside

We were driving west on Route 28 across the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, my dog Georgie and I, in an 11-year-old Beetle for a week-long camping trip. It was early May and the deluge of summer tourists had not yet begun. The countryside had just stretched and yawned and shaken itself free of its winder blankets of ice and snow, yet the day was cold and gloomy with a steel-gray sky overhead. It had been 3 hours since I’d last seen another car.

This particular route takes one first through Hiawatha National Forest and then, without break, through Superior State Forest for 150 miles: a route of tree-enclosed land. Georgie huddled close, her head on my leg. I guessed she was feeling the same sense of isolation that had gripped me. It is at such a time and place that the driver of an 11-year-old Beetle begins talking aloud to her car, warning it of the inadvisability of dropping its drive shaft or some other major organ in the middle of the road.

The clouds lowered and a misty rain began falling. I slowed down, peering through the accompanying haze, and saw several brown shapes slip from the woods onto the grassy verge of the road: white-tail deer. Car/deer collisions are common in Michigan, and I slowed down to a crawl, as much for safety’s sake as for the quiet thrill of watching the animals up close. The road was empty of cars save me, and I could take my time.
The deer began feeding cautiously, snatching mouthfuls of grass and looking about, nervously flicking their large ears back and forth. One –a doe — advanced nearer the edge of the road. I stopped the car. She looked up and looked through the windshield, directly into my eyes. Our gazes locked. It was an eerie feeling, a primordial feeling, to have Nature looking back at me. It was as if the doe and I were reaching across biological lines, trying to ferret out each other’s thoughts.

It may have been minutes that we stared at each other; it may only have been seconds. But I was held by an almost electrical feeling. Georgie, too, was still and staring, transfixed. The doe stood rooted to the spot, her normally mobile ears locked forward, motionless.

The wind picked up and the mist turned into a pelting rain. The doe broke the spell as she turned to head back into the woods. Just before she slipped from sight, she paused and looked back at me, then slid into the trees and disappeared.