Tonight was not quite so glorious a night for a winter drive. The roads have been slick since yesterday and the deer are out in full force to take advantage of feeding time between storms — but when they’d rather not be, due to the darkness of the night with the sliver of a crescent moon hidden behind clouds. And when I’d rather they weren’t out and about, too, because the darker the night the more easily dazzled by the headlights the critters will be. All in all tonight was a very good night for staying home.
Our first deer encounter came before we even got out of town. I was paying attention to a pickup truck in the suicide left turn lane traveling the same direction we were with its left turn signal on but drifting dangerously to the right. As in right into the side of our truck if I’d not reacted. Just as we got safely clear of that hazard, Amethyst called out, “Deer! In the middle of the road coming from the left in front of us!”. It was the first time she’d seen a critter on the road before I did, and I congratulated her once the deer was safely off the road and behind us. I was impressed that she got all of the important information conveyed, too. “Deer!” by itself conveys almost nothing — it can mean anything from oh joy I’ve seen a precious Bambi to oh my fucking god two monster bucks are about to crash through the windshield.
It seemed kind of a big thing that Amethyst saw the deer before I did. Right after luring her to my mountain lair I took her out on a tour of the place and lucked into seeing a herd of antelope not terribly far from the road and near a safe parking place, too. I pulled in and parked, guessed that the nearest members of the herd were only about sixty yards straight out through the windshield (which is unusually close for antelope), and then Amethyst asked, “Why did you stop?”. I answered that I didn’t know if she’d ever seen antelope so close before, and after looking around a bit she asked, “What antelope?”. It took her about two minutes to see them, and I’ve not let her live it down. She may be getting close to it, though, having spotted that one before I did tonight AND telling me right where to look for it. Amethyst, friends and neighbors, is a very high quality co-pilot!
With the world being slick and the deer being on the move, Amethyst stayed on lookout as we moseyed along the highway at no more than 40 miles per hour. Being pretty good at this driving around in the Rockies thing, I had my really super good high beam headlights on and my instrument panel and cell phone both dimmed to almost dark — and despite our vigilance neither I nor Amethyst saw the next doe we encountered until it was too late. I braked, covered but didn’t sound the horn (because we were too close for it to be wise), and for just an instant she gave me hope by pausing. But it was just for an instant before bolting and angling across our path in front of us. It would have been the right decision to run away at an angle across our path and then make a fast turn toward the direction of attack had we been a mountain lion bearing down on her at an angle from her rear, but while mountain lions can’t turn as fast as mule deer a mule deer can’t run as fast as a Dodge Ram.
It was the instinctive so expected but wrong decision, so I opened up the (startlingly loud) horn to alert any other drivers in the area that something bad was happening as I angled the truck as close to parallel to her heading as I could safely manage. The deer was surely a goner no matter what I did but Amethyst and I would fare better if the truck weren’t disabled alongside a very dark and soon to be icy highway. The right front corner of the truck hit the doe just a behind her left front shoulder and the whiplash broke her neck.
We both feel really shitty about it. Road kills are disrespectful as hell.
The truck got off easy, with just a headlight knocked loose and a bit more tweak of an already slightly tweaked bit of plastic bumper trim. We were both very, very surprised to see so little damage — it’s practically unheard of here in the land of intimidating truck bumpers. And I say only that it’s practically unheard of because there’s a guy who works at the truck dealership who’s heard of everything that ever happened and a whole lot more that ain’t.
I’ve been wanting new headlights anyway to take better advantage of the other headlight system upgrades I’ve already done and which have proven their value many times in the past by way of avoided animal strikes. I was thinking before Amethyst said that they’re what got me enough reaction time to be able to minimize the damage/maximize our safety tonight, so the broken headlight makes the point that updating the headlights is a task now due.
I figure I owe the world that much. And I figure it’d be downright shitty of me to not try to be more careful in the future after I’ve accidentally killed something that had every right to be who and what and where it was and do what it did. I had the same right, but as the survivor I get the survivor’s guilt.
And those new headlights I’ve been wanting.