About twenty years ago, I spent many an evening traveling a stretch of highway from Galesburg, Illinois to Arsenal Island in the Quad Cities—and back again.
The first half of the trip was never much trouble. I’d leave my job in a supermarket in the ‘Burg while it was still daylight, swing through a nearby fast food restaurant, eat as I drove, and wind down from a hectic day on the way to class.
Coming home was different, though.
It was dark. Work, school and studying had caught up with me, and I was tired. The radio helped to keep me awake and—after one eventful evening—watching for deer helped to keep me alert.
It happened that one of my great-aunts passed away during my time as a Western Illinois University extended degree student, and her visitation was at a Quad Cities-area funeral home. I met my parents after class that evening, paid my respects, and traveled with them to a cousin’s home. When it was time to leave, my mother rode with me, my aunt and uncle followed in their car, and my dad rounded out the caravan in his.
About 15 minutes out of the Cities, I noticed that my uncle’s lights had gone out and he was pulling to the side of the road. I pulled over. My dad did, too.
We learned a large deer had crossed in front of my uncle, pushing the front of his car nearly to the windshield and rendering the vehicle unusable. Fortunately, no one was hurt that evening. Even the car was later made operable again by some body shop magicians.
My husband and I have had our share of deer mishaps, too.
Once, returning from an Illini game in a nearly new 1976 Grand Prix, a deer decided to dance with our vehicle as my husband and his buddy neared the Knox County line on Interstate 74.
Another time, driving to a meeting with a customer somewhere in West Central Illinois, hubby took to the ditch to avoid a doe out on an early morning jaunt.
And, just a few years ago at dusk, only a couple miles from where we lived in McLean County, a doe ran across the road so quickly we could not miss her. We lost a headlight in that mishap.
But, if we thought we’d seen deer in Illinois, we soon learn we “hadn’t seen nuttin’” like we were going to see in Missouri. We’ve been vacationing at the Lake of the Ozarks area in Central Missouri since about the time I was making those jaunts to that Quad Cities island and, through the years, we’ve seen our share of deer.
But, since I moved full-time to my current Missouri home a few months ago, I’ve seen more deer than I saw in Illinois my entire life. They seem to be everywhere.
It’s not the same, though. These deer are different. Illinois deer get big—real big. They run fast—real fast. They’re sneaky—real sneaky. You never know when they’re going to play a game of hide and seek or chicken with you.
Missouri deer are like nothing I’ve seen before. Because they’re not corn-fed, like their Illinois cousins, they’re smaller—a lot smaller, especially this year, when the drought has left them foraging for food, including in the flower pots around my house. They’re slow—much slower than Illinois deer. It’s nothing for one to just saunter across the road, as if saying, “You can wait. I’ve got the right of way.” And, sneaky they’re not.
These deer are predictable. It’s a pretty sure thing that you’ll see them at dusk, you’ll see several traveling together, and they’ll just stop, look you in the eye, and dare you to let them have the road.
Because of this, I’ve learned to drive slower on the road to my home, travel in the evening only when I really have to, and to be even more diligent about watching for the four-legged creatures than I was on those Illinois evenings two decades ago.
The other night, I tarried too long at my computer and had to make an evening trip to the grocery store—something I avoid these days as much as I do those deer in my headlights.
Coming home, just as the sun was about to leave the sky, on the hard road a couple miles from my home, I saw a deer. I looked for her companion, but didn’t see it. Then, in the oncoming lane, I saw an SUV, almost at a stop, as I was. Right in front of it was deer number two.
“Yep, I though. There’s the other one.”
That deer stood in place while I passed. Hopefully, it eventually moved to let the SUV by.
A few yards later, I took the fork in the road, drove less than a quarter mile, and saw in the field off to the right four more deer grazing on what little grass was left.
I looked from right to left as I continued down the road, got about another half mile, and saw two more off to the side of the road.
That made eight deer at about 8 p.m. on a stretch of road less than a mile long.
These days, I don’t watch for that one big deer that might cross my path.
Instead, I’m diligent always, eyes darting side to side, especially at dusk, and if I see one deer, I think to myself, “Oh, dear, there must be another one.”
There almost always are.
© Ann Tracy Mueller 2012