Saturday, November 16, 2013

Opening Weekend

Friday marked the opening day of Michigan's deer firearm season. It's an occasion treated as a holiday by many; some hunters take the day off, if it's a workday, leaving their desk behind for a blind or tree stand. Blaze-orange hats grace the dashboard of many a vehicle, bars hang up their "WELCOME, HUNTERS!" banners, and gas stations sell large bags of carrots and apples and beets. Talk in the coffee shop, workplace, and grocery store ultimately revolves around hunting and venison recipes; local taxidermists advertise themselves with a renewed fervor, anticipating a flood of trophy mounts. It's an exciting time to be a hunter, a dangerous time to be a deer, and a fascinating time to be observing, from the sidelines.

It's during this time of year that roadkill deer become more conspicuous to me: while their kin are being felled by bullets, these deer are victim to cars. Sometimes they are retrieved, spared from a public decomposition alongside the highway; others are not. A freezer's worth of meat goes to waste, as often these deer die in so busy a place that not even the crows or coyotes will risk scavenging the carcass.

Last night, I dreamt I found a dead buck alongside the highway. He was a fresh hit, still warm, and I gutted him on the spot. It was a visceral, vivid dream, and when I woke up, I could still feel the hot sliminess of his internal organs sliding along my hands and forearms.

It was a warmish morning, with temperatures hovering around 40°F, and Steph and I took a drive south down US 41. The highway was clear, and after fifteen miles, the only roadkill critter we'd seen had been a skunk, dead on the center line. We turned around, heading back home, and that's when I spotted a dead deer in the ditch — it had somehow evaded my sight on our first pass. We turned around and parked to get a closer look.

It was a buck: neck swollen, hooves large, tarsal glands dark. Both his antlers had been snapped off during the impact — one laid several feet away, broken mid-beam, strong bone splintered.

A section of his back had been ripped open, exposing the meat and fat beneath the skin — a hind leg was twisted unnaturally — a sheen of blood lined his nostrils. The buck smelled of the rut, a strong, heady odor that permeated the immediate vicinity of his roadside deathbed. His face was calm.

He was also fresh. I wanted desperately to call him in — to be issued a tag — to take him home and butcher him. In retrospect, I could have, and I should have — and I would have, had I possessed more confidence in the whole thing. There will always be more roadkill deer, I tell myself, and it's true. 

I kept the broken antler. It smells of the buck's final habits while still alive: rubbing against a spruce tree. It's an intimate view of a life no longer living.

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