If power animals exist, my power animal is a deer. I’m not sure about the existence of power animals but what do I know? I do know that over and over again in my life, I have close encounters with cervidae of various kinds.
Today, back home in Washington, I set out to fetch groceries. There was not much in my fridge beyond a hunk of Parmesan cheese (good) and watermelon I should’ve thrown out before I left town (bad.) There’s a fabulous little organic grocery store in my new neighborhood, but “fabulous” and “organic,” when applied to “grocery” and “store” means yams are $5.00/ea. Close to that, anyway. I consulted the oracle and found a Giant supermarket close to my building.
Apparently, I had my Google Maps set to Hermes; what I thought would be a twenty-two-minute trip was at least double that. The Giant really can’t be the closest supermarket to me but these are the misadventures you have when you live in a new place. You have to go to the wrong places to find the right ones.
I’m walking along (and along) the sidewalk in a pretty neighborhood. I’m sweating from the humidity and sun. And coming from the other side of the street — casual as anything — steps a deer. Large deer. Deer with antlers. This deer walked into the street and was therefore about ten or twelve feet away from me. Seeing each other, we stopped in our tracks. The deer looked at me and I looked at the deer and for a moment I wondered, “Do deer charge humans?” and I felt fear. We looked at each other for a good 2.5 seconds; I’ve replayed the encounter many times and believe that’s correct.
“You have got to be kidding me,” I thought. It was right there. Wildlife in the city and we were crossing paths. The deer — surely feeling fear, wondering if humans charge deer — took a running leap over a high fence into someone’s yard where I presume he began munching begonias.
There was a FedEx truck way down the hill who might’ve seen the deer up ahead. I tried to make eye contact with him as he passed. I opened my eyes wide to communicate, “What the —-?!” but I didn’t get an appropriate response, so I don’t think he saw it. This was a me-deer thing.
I’m not so sure power animals are real, but that was mighty powerful.
One hot August afternoon in the year 2000, I found myself driving a shiny red convertible on a highway in Iowa. I was barely twenty years old, the top was down (convertible top, not my top) and this was a good day because, hey, convertible, and also because it was summer. On top of that, the car had a CD player and I happened to have all my Beastie Boys records with me. Bam!
The car was my mom’s almost-brand-new new toy, but she was allowing me take it to Iowa City for a few days. I was in college then, and that summer I split my time between my hometown and my college town, working as a waitress in both places. I’ve always been a pretty responsible kid and my mother has always been a pretty generous person, so I got the car for a spell. My plan was to rock out, get to Iowa City in one piece, work a few days, and then jam.
That is not what came to pass.
About an hour into the three-hour drive to Iowa City, somewhere between Paul’s Boutique and Check Your Head, I became intimately acquainted with a wild animal.
Out of nowhere — in the middle of the afternoon! — while speeding along Highway 169, my peripheral vision picked up a huge, brownish mass bounding out of the ditch on my right. I was going about sixty-five miles an hour; the huge, brownish mass was matching my speed.
Before I had time to understand what was about to happen, the mass — a 10-point buck, give or take — chose to cross the road. Right that second. Mother’s convertible was in the way, of course, and I was in the convertible. The deer dashed up onto the shoulder and then charged, hard, directly into the road.
In a hideous flash: impact.
Ever been hit by a deer from the side while you’re driving? Ever hit a deer head on? It’s not good. Deer are huge. Even small deer are huge. They’re at least bigger than a Great Dane and Great Danes are enormous. Think about hitting a Great Dane with your car. Now make the Great Dane at least three times bigger with antlers and hooves. Bambi is a lie. Bambi is a cartoon animal with big eyelashes. Actual deer are big, wild, and painfully stupid. And they do not have rabbits as pets. So I’m like:
…as the deer comes up over the side of the car and into the car with me. I felt its bestial heat. Its deer belly was five inches from my face. There came The Great Kicking, and I remember understanding a tremendous amount of weight very near me now, and I remember thinking how much blood a deer probably has and how I was going to know for sure very soon.
“AAAAGGGHHHHHHH! GAAHHHHHHH!” screamed the deer, as he kicked and scrambled over me.
While this is all happening, understand, I’m still driving the car — sort of. I hear plastic shattering and my feet are stabbing at the clutch pedal and the gas pedal and who knows what else. I’m downshifting, I’m pulling over, somehow, and as I’m doing this, the deer clears the car. He came up onto the road, came into the car, and left out the other side.
This is a true story.
When the car finally stopped, there was glass all over me. The deer had all but shattered the windshield; it sagged toward me, crackled into lace. The passenger’s side mirror was in my lap in 10,000 pellets. The entire console of the car was kicked in, totally gone. The Beastie Boys were silent. There was deer hair everywhere. I was taking Italian in school at the time and as I looked at the rape of the convertible, the first thought I had was in Italian for some reason; this probably has to do with my brain not functioning properly or functioning at some adrenaline-boosted peak level. The hair was three distinct colors: dark brown, medium brown, and white, so:
“Tricolore,” I said to myself. “Capelli…deer…e tricolore.”
A woman coming down the road on the other side stopped and helped me. She had seen the whole thing. I wasn’t hurt. I thought my face was bashed in because my chin was wet, but it was just spit that had flown out of my mouth when I was whipping my head around and going:
I used the lady’s phone to call Mom. When I told her what had happened, she did what any good mother would do: she thanked her lucky stars her daughter was okay and called a mechanic. It was no one’s fault; car insurance was deployed. I went onto Iowa City not long after the whole thing was resolved — you can’t keep me down for long.
But to this day, whenever I drive in Iowa (and I have been driving a lot while I’m here for TV) I end up with a terrible pain in my right shoulder. This is because I drive with it hunched up into my neck, subconsciously trying to brace myself for impact.
I broke my usual rule to opt out of Black Friday shopping. I broke my rule because it was a matter of survival. I bought $50.04 worth of hunter orange today to protect my kith and kin.
Up here on the Island, we are at the height of deer hunting season. This means dozens of people are in the woods with guns at any hour of the day, prowling around for animals to shoot. As everyone in this house is an animal and most of the Island is woods, the past few days have been ever-so-slightly tense — and it ain’t because we’ve been playing 6 hours of Yahtzee every day. Mom spoke to the sheriff at the general store last week and the conversation centered around one main idea: this week, if you leave your house without dressing in head-to-toe hunter orange, you’re probably going to get shot.
When Mom reported this, many pairs of eyebrows were raised. We’ve been on the Island at all times of the year for decades and we’ve never been on such high alert. Apparently, there are way more people hunting this year than ever and apparently, my family has been taking our lives in our hands for years, taking out the garbage, walking to the car, opening a window, etc., in normal-people clothes.
Last night, everyone at the house under 40 went out to Nelsen’s for carousing. Nelsen’s Hall is the ale house on Main Road where you can get a bucket of Maker’s Mark for three dollars. We shot pool, we played songs on the juke, we laughed till our sides hurt, and we made sure to check with some locals on the whole hunter orange thing. We simply didn’t believe the sheriff that it was that dangerous outside.
We asked the bartender first. She was beautiful; pleasantly plump, with the creamy skin one can only achieve by being fed cheese curds from infancy. She looked at us all blankly.
“Why do you want to be outside? It’s winter.”
We didn’t end up asking anyone else.
Today, I stopped by the mercantile and I bought fifty bucks worth of neon orange stuff: a vest, a sweatshirt, some duct tape, two hats, and a kerchief that was so stiff you could use it as a bone saw in a pinch. Better safe than shot, I say.
Ah, I forgot: I bought something else, too.
Kristina and I stopped by Fisk’s restaurant to inquire about the fish dinner tonight and we spied two freshly baked pies cooling on a shelf. Pumpkin! They were clearly not on offer for sale, but we asked if we could buy a whole one, anyway. Sure, they said, twelve bucks. We forked over the cash and promised to bring back the pie tin when the pie was gone. That means I actually spend $62.04 on Black Friday, but for survival and pie, I shall make exceptions.
*Blaze Orange is a photographic coffee table book full of timeless images of the Whitetail Deer gun hunting season in Wisconsin. Wisconsin deer hunting is all about family. Families raise their children safely into the sport of hunting which is filled with traditions. Wisconsin’s Whitetail Deer gun season is 9 days long and requires hunters to wear Blaze Orange for safety. The season in closely monitored by the Wisconsin DNR. The DNR expects more than 600,000 hunters, about 10% of the state’s population, to take to the Wisconsin woods and fields next weekend. Wisconsin deer hunting runs deep with heritage for many Wisconsinites as the deer season here has an almost cult-like following.