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.