It’s easy, when you live in the suburbs and drive around town in the relative safety of your mid-size SUV, to forget your smallness in relation to the Earth at-large. You start to feel confident that a seat belt, a prescription, and the good sense to steer clear of gangs, is insurance enough against harm. Sometimes it takes almost getting gored by a ferocious buck on a hilltop in Michigan to put everything back in perspective.
Despite swearing I’d never go back after the heat/humidity/mosquito/lice debacle of 2010, I spent the weekend at camp. This time the weather was perfect and there were no vermin. We arrived on Friday night and spent the evening chatting with friends by the fireplace, drinking spiced beverages, and playing Lithuanian Trivial Pursuit as people on a fall weekend in the woods are wont to do.
The next day was gorgeous – sunny and mild – and we spent most of it outdoors. The V-meister ran gleefully hither and yon, collecting all manner of things living and dead inside her backpack while I took an uncharacteristic reprieve from breathing down her neck. The P-Dawg did manly chores like gathering firewood and moving a keg from the car to the freezer, and I forced Jonas to go on a hike with me around the lake.
Later, when the children were otherwise occupied, my friend V (yup, she was there too) and I decided to take a short walk to the top of a nearby hilltop, where we sat down on a bench to chat. We were generally minding our own business and remarking on the pleasant time we were having, when V halted mid-sentence and said in an urgent tone, “J, (that’s my nickname) What should we do?“
I looked up just in time to lock eyes with my own mortality in the form of a gigantic and very fearsome buck wearing antlers long enough to catch a radio signal with. He was standing about fifty feet away from us across the clearing.
“Shhhhhhhh! Don’t move!” I hissed at my friend V. “Don’t. Move.”
No sooner had I spoken than the earth began to rumble and shake as the buck started to charge in our direction. My friend V and I sat paralyzed on our little bench while visions of our short, yet not entirely unproductive lives played before our eyes. For a brief, terrifying moment, the flimsy veil of continuity – so easily forgotten in everyday life – was lifted, and we were reminded of our humble places in the celestial pecking order, the fleeting, arbitrary nature of our time and place on Earth.
We were about to be eaten for lunch.
As it happened, the buck was not particularly interested in a couple of grain fed thirty-something moms wearing North Face jackets. It had its eye on something in the woods directly behind us and missed us by six or seven feet. Once we realized we were out of danger, my friend V began to laugh maniacally as is her tendency in life and death situations, while I took off running for the bottom of the hill, leaving her to contemplate the harrowing encounter in her own way.
Later, we told our friends the buck was ten feet tall and foaming at the mouth. And I said that if it had actually tried to attack me, I would have simply grabbed it by the horns and ridden it rodeo style until help arrived.
But I’m really glad it didn’t come to that. It’s probably healthy to catch a glimpse of your own mortality every now and again, but I would actually prefer to keep that curtain closed for a long, long time to come.
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