THE DEER- March 2024

My neighbor John called to tell me about the deer.  It was a late Saturday afternoon in mid-January, several inches of snow on the ground and well below freezing outside.

He told me that he was out on the hill behind his house with his dogs where there was a herd of nine or ten deer.  One was hurt, limping, and two of his dogs picked it off the herd and set to chase.  The deer’s leg broke in the running.  John was able to rope the dogs back in and follow the severely injured deer as she managed to cross his hill, his neighbor’s hill and then wind her slow and tortured way down to where I live.  The deer stopped and collapsed into the snow just outside my back fence.

John tried to reach the Department of Environmental Conservation to come and take the deer out of its misery, but no one answered.  So he called the state troopers and they were on their way.  He didn’t want me to panic if I suddenly saw a trooper with a weapon drawn in my yard.

While we were talking, I looked out my windows to spot the deer, but I couldn’t see her from any vantage point my windows allowed. So I hung up with John, pulled on my boots and coat and went out to look.  My son came with me; he had been listening to my half of the conversation and wanted to know what was happening.

The deer was lying in the snow just on the other side of my fence to the left of my backyard.  Her head was up and her eyes were alert with fear.  She was badly hurt, and the bed of brittle snow in which she lay must have offered little comfort.  My son, distraught at the sight, went back inside and I waited for the troopers.

They arrived a few minutes later–three of them in matching uniforms and matching haircuts.  They were not wearing coats and their smooth cheeks were ruddy with cold. There was an air of something about them–nerves, excitement, perhaps dread, and I tried to imagine how they might feel embarking on this task both horrifying and humane.  They came into my yard and saw that they could not reliably reach the animal from there.  They turned to me for directions and I suggested that they go back out my driveway and take the long way around the building next door to the right.  Otherwise, they could enter my neighbor’s yard to the left, but would have to climb a picket fence.  They opted for the latter.

I heard them talking as they made the trip around.  They appointed the shooter among them and one trooper asked him if he needed earplugs.  Nah, he shrugged off the suggestion, and they continued on.  I went back inside my house and to the back door where I could see what was happening.  My son was watching something funny on TV, slouching on the couch.

When the troopers reached the fence and began to climb it, the deer tried to flee.  Somehow she was still able to move, dragging her bad leg behind her.  She could go only so far, and dropped down again just beyond my back fence.

The troopers followed and circled up to do their work. One of them turned around and saw me watching and waved.  I waved back.

The first shot did not do the job and the deer flailed while the trooper arranged his next shot.  The second shot stilled the animal and one of the troopers approached to see if she was truly dead.  Then they left.

I turned my attention to dinner, rinsing vegetables at the sink.  Over the sink is a window which also looks out into the backyard, beyond which the dead body of the deer lay cooling on the snow while the night began to settle down upon us all.  There was little light left as I sliced potatoes and seasoned the chicken, but what remained reflected off the snow and continued to illuminate the scene.  Eventually even that light faded, and everything was gray.

At dinner, my son, ever vigilant of my moods, remarked that I seemed sad.  I said that I was sad, about the deer, about what I had seen.  He asked, why did you watch?

I wanted to say something important, something about being a witness to the suffering that is literally just outside our door.  But that response seemed out of proportion to the event, and to the audience, so instead I replied, I don’t know–it didn’t seem right not to watch.

He shrugged at me in that way that only pre-teens can, and we finished our dinner in comfortable silence, washed up and watched more of the funny TV show before bed.

The next morning, before dawn, I was woken by my dogs barking.  They heard a vehicle coming down the hill behind my house.  I looked out my bedroom window and could discern the shape of a tractor with a bucket on the front.  My neighbor who owns the land on which the deer had died had come to collect the body.  I saw the animal’s limbs sticking up awkwardly from the bucket and I tracked the tractor’s headlights, eerie in the early morning murk, as they wound slowly back up the hill, disappearing here, reappearing there.  I watched until I could not see them anymore, and then I got up to walk my dogs.~