Tuesday, June 4, 2013

Buttons

It's now the month of June, and that means deer: the birth of fawns — the sprouting of velvet antlers — the shedding of winter fur. It's a scary, exciting time to be a deer, especially for last year's fawns, who are just starting to get a foothold in this big, strange world. After a long, frigid winter — which is a trying time, most notably for yearlings — the first breath of spring seems to spell freedom. Food is abundant, the wind is no longer cruel and icy, and bedding down on warm grasses is so much more comfortable than curling up on a cold patch of snow.

Some yearlings are cautious or, at the very least, lucky. They might have a near-miss with a car or a coyote — but they survive, and they learn from their mistakes, and they grow stronger. Other yearlings are not so fortunate, straying too close to traffic, and many meet their end on the road.

Yesterday's button buck was one of the unlucky yearlings.

Roadside

He was hit along US 41 just outside of Marquette, near the Carp River bridge; the collision happened around five o'clock in the afternoon. On her way home from work, Steph saw the aftermath of the accident: the parked car, the deer's body. Two hours later, the carcass was still there, being experimentally pecked at by a crow or two; by nine o'clock, the setting sun had slipped behind the ancient ridges of worn mountains, and the deer remained. The crows had left, and the air temperature, hovering at 40°F, had kept insect scavengers at bay.

Deathmask

Occasionally I find that there's a strange sense of serenity that creeps in at unexpected, perhaps even inappropriate times. Last night was one of those moments. As I circled the deer with my camera, road noise disappeared — the chill in the air melted away — and all became quite silent and still. The world faded around me — and it was just myself and this young deer, with his dead eyes, his coy smile, and his patchy, transitioning fur.




There was no sign of a prolonged death. The ground was not stirred up by the kicking of legs, and the only blood to be seen came in a small trickle, seeping from the buck's nostrils. One velvet nub on his head had burst open from being scraped along the pavement; the other was intact.


The sound of traffic slowly materialized around me once more. The cars slowed, then sped up again once they'd passed: another dead deer, another weirdo taking photos of it. Save for the rivulet of blood and the pedicle with roadburn, by all outward appearances, the button buck seemed unharmed. His legs weren't broken and askew at strange angles; his vitals weren't smeared across the asphalt. 


On the way back to my car, I spotted tracks in the grit and sand alongside the highway — deer tracks, leading to where he had fallen. The path was stilted and erratic — visibly panicked. The final moments of this young buck's life were not nearly as peaceful as his gracefully-posed corpse belied. He had been spooked, likely quite confused by the glimmer of Lake Superior and the roar of rush hour traffic that separated him from it.

June is a scary month for young deer. For a list of reminders on how to better avoid a car-deer collision, read last year's Deer Month.

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