It happened so fast
A Northwoods tale of a doe and a truck
BY MITCH MODE
Special to the Star Journal
I’m driving slow and easy, a shade above 55, a touch below 60, red speedometer needle holding steady as a compass pointing home. Highway 17 swings in a long radius arc to the right near the south county line. It’s sunny, mid morning, early summer day.
The deer comes fast from the right, dodging and turning in a mad, wild slalom, running crazy fast. I hit the brakes. The deer is in full flight, a blur of summer coated orange-brown and she is going full tilt as she clears the shoulder of the road and hits my truck dead on.
It happens faster than I can tell it, than I can write it, faster than you can read it. A blur of wild-running deer on a sunny June day; the end-game impact.
The deer pinwheels across the pavement but I cannot see it; the hood on the truck is crumpled high enough that I cannot see over. The truck is stopped; I cannot remember braking. It all happened so fast.
Shards of plastic, red and black and faux chrome are scattered across the blacktop like a constellation. I pull the truck to the side of the road. Fluids of unknown origin puddle on the gravel shoulder hemorrhaged as if lifeblood from breached veins. The hood is crumpled; the radiator tilted into the engine.
Peering into the guts of the engine cavity, it’s as if I am looking for a pulse of life, as if there was some hope, some spark, some ember that could blossom and grow. There is none, only a faint ticking and a rise of steam that drifts up as if the soul of the machine taking flight.
I take a photo of the demolished truck, text it to Sally, note “Might not be able to drive it.” A minute later the phone warbles. “What happened?”
What happened? What happened was truck met deer. What happened was accident. What happened was, in the light of that summer morning, a shame.
Sally starts the process; the call to insurance, the call to county sheriff, the end game of the all too common deer collision.
I walk to the deer, limp and disjointed as a stuffed dog toy my dogs would worry in play. I am very allergic to deer and contact with them leaves me wheezing with asthma. I loop a strand of rope around her neck like an executioner on a scaffold and I slide the doe off the blacktop to the rich green summer grass from where she came and to which she will now return.
Cars pass. In the next hour that I am there six will stop and offer assistance and I think that is a good thing; that someone on the side of the road will have people care enough to stop.
I kick pieces of plastic grill and trim off to the side of the road. I bend over to examine the rubble of my truck, pieces of red and silver and black as if autumn leaf fallen early. I wish I had a broom or a rake.
Back at the truck, I look into the void of engine and wires. I wrinkle my forehead in concentration, squint my eyes, pause as if in consideration of some deep and meaningful truth. In reality, I have no idea what I am doing. I have no knowledge of what makes an engine work and lifting a hood of a vehicle reminds me of “Raiders of the Lost Ark” and a lifted lid releasing demons and ghosts and visions of evil and decay. That is what I really see under the hood of a vehicle in distress; ghosts and despair and unknown evils.
It is clear that the truck is dead to the world, dead as the doe that ran from sanctuary for who knows what reason, ran as if all the evil in the world was on her heels, ran from the green thickness into the clear morning sun into her eternity at the end of her days.
So I stand on the roadside on that summer morning and field phone calls from Sally, from the insurance people, stand under a cloudless sky of no compassion or judgment. I look at the crushed front end of the truck, the hood folded as if a concertina ready to play a dismal funeral dirge.
Sally drives down, looks in shock at the ruined truck, asks if I am okay. She seems skeptical that I am. But I am. There was no impact on my side, only center and passenger side and I’m grateful only that I was alone.
The tow truck comes; he’s been on this routine before, knows his stuff, makes small talk until the sheriff deputy comes and is assured that, yes, there has been a truck to deer collision. Then the tow operator loads the truck aboard, the lifeless hunk of metal and plastic and rubber.
Sally drives me to town and I borrow her car and drive to Madison for a buying show that prompted the whole excursion. I show photos of the devastated truck and everyone nods their heads sagely and tells me I was lucky. I nod with equal gravity and say it could have been worse.
The following evening I drive home in the time of lengthening shadow and dimming light. I drive across the farmlands of the central part of the state to the familiar forests of the north. I drive slow and easy and when others blaze past me in haste I wonder of what they would do should a deer step out.
I pass the curve where I hit the deer. It does not look different from any other section of road; blacktop cooling in the evening, grasses lush off the shoulder, thick green woods holding shadow and mystery and nowhere any sign of drama and sudden death of the day before.
Then I am past it and into the lowering darkness of nightfall.
An assortment of outdoor products is available at Mel’s Trading Post, downtown Rhinelander. Call 715-362-5800.