A few nights ago, after visiting a friend in the hospital, Denise and I were on our way home. Living out in the country has its benefits, but there are dangers as well. Snow had begun falling on a very chilly night and visibility was beginning to become a small issue. Nearly home, we pass a large area that has been preserved for nature; a project to rehabilitate natural wetlands and prairie grasses and reintroduce birds and animals native to Iowa.
We came upon an entry point to a large section that at this time of year looks like brown scrub and dying weeds amongst the short drifted snow. Laying just off the road was an adult white-tail doe. At first I simply went on very slowly. Vehicle/deer incidents in Iowa are all too common. On the highway leading to our home, they are frequent. It’s an unfortunate situation when nature and machine combine.
After passing, I slowed down and told Denise that I had to turn around, that in good conscience I could not just drive home without knowing the status of the deer. Had it been hurt, or was something else going on. She said she understood, but gave me the warning that needed to be spoken; be careful if you get out of the vehicle. Any deer hunter or natural-resources officer would have said the same thing. An injured deer can be a deadly foe for humans. Their ability to use extremely strong legs to strike a human, knock them down and trample them is of serious concern, and that is why I want to express that I may not be considered intelligent in what I did next, but it is something I felt was so important that I had to share.
I pulled along the shoulder so that I could shine the headlights on the animal. She was a beautiful beast. Laying down serenely, it wasn’t immediately apparent what was wrong – if anything – with the deer. The snow lightly fell onto her coat and she simply watched me approach from a safe distance.
Having been around animals for most of my life, I have always had something of a sixth sense. I cannot tell you the number of dogs from my time working as a veterinary assistant in high school to current day that honestly have treated me like another dog instead of a human. It is often laughable at how an animal I have never been around will suddenly cross a friend’s room to sit on my lap or have a romp on the floor with me. My best friend in high school had a Dalmatian that would take toys away from me if I got down on the floor and acted like I was going to put them in my mouth. Our own dog, a black and tan coonhound, is a more submissive dog until I get on the floor and show her that I want to submit to her while playing by laying on my back or side and rolling around. Lest I digress, I have never been around an animal that I did not respect enough to play by their rules unless it demanded that I assert myself, and it has been quite a benefit.
The doe got to her feet, but was not aggressive, so I kept up my visual inspection from a distance of about 20 feet. Once the deer stood, Denise could see that there was blood near its hind-quarters and rump and on the snow where she had been laying. As I circled her, I spoke softly and maintained a non-aggressive stance. It was apparent that something had happened to her. On her side there were patches on her hide that had been taken right down to the skin, but were not open wounds. Denise was the first to notice that she had a broken front leg (left side).
My greatest concern was that the injured animal not be further damaged by being so close to the road and that I attempt to prevent someone in a vehicle from being harmed as well. Being so brave, I coaxed the doe with my voice to move further from the side of the road and into the field hoping she would lay down in the cover of tall grasses. I had little hope that she would be able to recover from her injuries, especially in the snow.
A braver person may have been able to go home, get their shotgun and return to put the animal out of its misery. I was not that brave. Instead, I simply treated the deer with a healthy dose of respect and let it come to me.
As her cold nose touched my hand, a new feeling arose inside me. It was one of intense sadness, incredible beauty and a flooding emotional reminder that I am a steward of God’s creatures. While I had not caused the injury, I felt responsible for the way the creature endured the hard night ahead. I continued to speak softly and felt her ears. She obliged by hobbling a step closer. I stood next to her broken leg at her head, making sure she could see me at all times, and placed my hip against hers, my arm and hand around her neck. The two of us moved very slowly into the foliage and away from the roadway.
I encouraged her to relax and said a prayer. Yes, I stood in a field with a deer and issued a silent prayer to God to have mercy on the animal and keep it from needless suffering. I slowly removed my hand from her head and walked backwards to the car. The wetness from her nuzzling of my hands was still upon them when I got behind the wheel. With a heavy heart, I drove us home.
I fully expect that I will receive all sorts of responses to what I am sharing. I will be told how irresponsible I was because I didn’t put her out of her misery. I will be told how ridiculous I was for approaching an injured animal that could easily kill me. I will be informed that saying a prayer for an animal approaches insanity. To all of those things, I say this – I don’t care.
In my heart, I know that the animal deserved much more from me than what I offered. It touches me that I was able to have such an experience that plucked at my heart-strings and reminded me to treat nature with the kind of precious reverence that it so often deserves. Nature is cruel and kind. The meeting of humanity and the ‘wild’ is too often a violent force. I could not bring myself to pass anything on to that wondrous creature than my very sincerest form of charity and love.
I share this with you only because it was one of the most precious moments in my life. I don’t encourage people to do as I did. I do encourage people to read my story and think about how their own lives may be touched by just one quiet moment that impacts them forever. It may not involve an animal, or snow, a field or even a prayer, but there is likely something that has happened or will happen that will show you a part of your own humanity that is so often not expressed – true charity.
The next day I had to run into town. Being curious, I stopped at the area to see if she had passed. I found nothing. And when I walked back to my car, my heart skipped a peaceful beat.
Christina L Rivers
06 Feb. 2014
© 2014, Christina L. Rivers – All Rights Reserved