It’s September. It’s an unusually temperate afternoon and I’m driving from work in Annapolis to home in Friendship. Yes — I live in a town called Friendship, and yes, it’s as charming as the name boasts. I’m driving down a southern Maryland “one-lane going each way” country road, and the trees are leaning in, casting off brown, yellow, and red whispers. Van Morrison is on the radio, singing about fishing holes and stoning me to my soul when ahead in the road, both directions come to a dead stop. As I approach something is flailing around in the road ahead. A large bird — (Albatross!) I think poetically like Samuel Taylor Coleridge and then comically like Monty Python. But no, more likely a goose or a turkey vulture, too greedy to move and struck dumb with its belly full of some other unfortunate roadside creature. As I edge closer, the wings become hooves and I see it’s a mid-sized deer just exiting fawnhood and just short of becoming the adult Bambi version, perhaps around 80 or 90 pounds.
My mind begins to chatter and I think,”Oh Christ, if I have to look at a dying, bleeding, suffering creature with cars stopped to watch I’m just gonna freak right out!”
There is no blood, no glass, no tire-tracks, no smoke, no wrecked car or any sign that something bad has just gone down, just this beige, many-legged thing in the road trying to right itself and get on its feet. It does, then falls, gets up, scrambles and kicks some more in a circle, and goes on repeating this for a good minute or so. It struggles and reels and lurches like it’s just been born. I have the sudden urge to just get out of my car and do something. WHAT exactly, I don’t know, but SOMETHING. Finally, a man in a white utility van swerves from behind me, pulls over, and gets out, crossing the road and the stopped traffic. What happened next was one of the most endearing actions I think I have ever seen between man and animal.
A big, brawny, lumberjack looking young man in blue jeans and boots and red plaid goes out to the deer. His hair is shaved close to his head like a military man and he walks, almost trudges, like he has a lot to carry; his arms bow out at his sides like whale bones. Like they’ve grown that way. Like something rotund and invisible, two rolled sleeping bags perhaps, are tucked beneath each arm. He doesn’t cautiously approach the deer or walk around it looking for an angle or a way to avoid being injured in the process of trying to help. He simply bends down, scoops the deer into his arms with its hooves up and cradles it, like a child that has just wiped out in a neighborhood bicycle crash.
He carries the deer out to the opposite side of the road, bends at the waist, and sets it down lightly, like an offering. Once it stands up, he tries to chase it up the forested embankment so it might run to freedom. The deer looks like it’s up and running, then sadly, just as the man turns to go back to his van, and traffic attempts to resume, everything stops again. We watch the deer slides helplessly back down the hill, through the brush, pulling a tangle of roots and leaves with it, and back out into the road where it proceeds to do its “flailing” thing once more. Its leg must’ve been injured, I think to myself. Perhaps it WAS hit, or maybe it broke its leg this way the first time it fell down the hill.
The man turns back to pick the deer up — again. By this time I decide to pull over and watch the whole thing transpire. The minimal effort with which the man hoists this creature up amazes me. The deer looks too big to be handled. It struggles a bit, and I hear the man telling it to “quit fussin'” which makes me think this looks rather like managing a 14 year-old adolescent having a temper tantrum.
Another motorist walks up the length of stopped cars and presents the deer-man with a cellular phone. I hear them discussing calling the city or animal control and they decide to call 911 to get the numbers or at least some initial help. Meanwhile, the man holds the deer, cradled, upside down with both hands collecting two hooves apiece to hold it still. Hog-tied, as it were. The deer’s breathing is quick and light, like a mother giving birth, and the panicked breaths of fear. Its eyes are large and deep and dark like an alien child. As absurd as the situation looks, everything appears to be under control, traffic begins to crawl along and people call sentiments out of their car windows as they pass.
“That was GREAT!”
“God Bless you!”
No one honked, (they might’ve frightened the deer further) they simply waved quietly and smiled. The deer-man held the animal like a proud father and I drove the rest of the way home, feeling pretty good about the natural world for a change.