The Deer

     Every once in a while, if we’re lucky, we get to look Nature in the face.
     Usually it’s a glorious occasion.
     This week it made me sad.
     Here’s what happened.
     I was pumping my bicycle up another endless hill in Vermont: 92 degrees, 90 percent humidity. Salt in my eyes, salt in my mouth, I stared at the pavement in front of the wheel. Then I looked up toward the beaver pond.
     Six feet away, just ahead on the right, stood a baby deer: enormous innocent black eyes big as snooker balls, giant ears perked up.
     One of his ears had been torn, probably by a thorn.
     I saw his wet black nose, a fleck of saliva on his lips.
     He stared at me without fear – without any reaction at all – and I stared at him.
     Sunglasses shielded my predator’s eyes. He wasn’t scared of me at all.
     We stared at each other for what seemed a long time, but could not have been more than 2 seconds. Then I pedaled on, and from my welter of emotions the dominant one was sadness.
     I’d missed my chance to warn him.
     “Run away!” I should have said. “Be scared of humans!
     “You don’t know them like I do! Run away and be scared!”
     I heard a car coming up behind. I didn’t look back.
     Ridiculous, I know: to feel sad for that.
     The illusion that I could have helped this creature who does not need my help.
     The illusion that I could have made something right that wasn’t wrong in the first place.
     Typical American illusion.
     I told Jane about it when I got home: that I was sad for I don’t know what.
     Jane said I hadn’t done anything wrong. “So long as he’s scared of cars.”
     “There was a car,” I said.
     She said I would have scared the deer if I’d shouted.
     I knew that. That was one of the emotions and quasi-thoughts that shot through my mind all at once as I pedaled by the baby deer.
     I didn’t want to scare him.
     But I wanted to warn him.
     The only way I could warn him was to scare him.
     And so on.
     All these things sparking to life in my mind in the fraction of a second in which I saw the deer and wondered what to do next.
     I did the right thing, of course, which was to do nothing.
     I have a big Akita dog, my second one. I love those noble beasts. Both of them have seen animals on our walks, and every time they approach a place where they saw the animal they get excited and they look again. As if the deer, or the fox, or the coyote, or the woodchuck will still be there, after all these years.
     The day after I saw the deer, churning up that hill again, head down, I looked up at the same place. A great blue heron was taking off from the beaver pond. Its giant wings pushed the invisible air, big old legs hung down like an aircraft landing gear. Up it rose, so slowly, with seeming effortless power, to where you and I can’t go.

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